ICE says foreign students on visas must leave the US or risk deportation if schools go online-only

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International students studying in the US on visas must leave the country or risk deportation if their universities and colleges switch to online-only courses, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, universities and colleges in the US are beginning to make the decision to transition to online courses. At Harvard, for example, all course instruction will be delivered online, including for students living on campus. For international students, that means they need to leave the US, according to the statement by ICE.

In a news release, ICE said that students who fall under certain visas “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States,” adding, “The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.”

“There’s so much uncertainty. It’s very frustrating,” 26-year-old Valeria Mendiola, told CNN. Mendiola is a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “If I have to go back to Mexico, I am able to go back, but many international students just can’t”, she said.

“Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings”, ICE said

There’s an exception for universities using a hybrid model, such as a mix of online and in-person classes.

Last month, the US issued an immigration proclamation dramatically curtailing legal immigration to the US sending hundreds of people and businesses into a scramble to understand whether their future plans are derailed.

In the proclamation, the administration argued that the “extraordinary circumstances” posed by coronavirus called for the suspension of employment-based visas.

While students might have the option to transfer to a college or university offering in-person courses, it might be difficult to come by amid continued concerns over coronavirus.

“This is going to create I think more anxiety on the part of international students, and for those who are still thinking about where they’re going to go in the fall, I think this may push them in the direction of attending a university in another country,” Brad Farnsworth, vice president of the American Council on Education, said.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, DC, about 1.2 million students who fall under the affected visas were enrolled and registered at more than 8,700 schools nationwide as of March 2018.

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