Foreign students currently in the US who are facing an online semester must depart the country, transfer to a school with in-person instruction, or face deportation.
The US is imposing new restrictions on foreign non-immigrant students for the upcoming fall semester, with many facing fresh warnings of deportation.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency shared an official update from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) on July 6. Foreign students attending schools set to operate entirely online this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic will not be permitted to stay in the US or enter the US on a student visa.
F-1 visa students, who pursue academic coursework, and M-1 visa students, who pursue vocational coursework, are the targets of the new restrictions.
The restrictions are currently set to only apply to the fall 2020 semester.
Non-immigrant students on F-1 and M-1 visas who are attending schools that have suspended in-person instruction may not take a full online course load and remain in the country.
The US Department of State will not issue visas to foreign students enrolled in schools or programs that are fully online for the upcoming semester. US Customs and Border Protection will bar these students from entering the US.
Foreign students currently in the US enrolled in now-online programs must depart the country, transfer to a school with in-person instruction, or face deportation.
Technical stipulations and exemptions
Non-immigrant F-1 students attending schools set to carry out in-person classes are exempt from the new regulations, and those eligible may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
Non-immigrant F-1 students attending schools with a combination of online and in-person classes may be able to take more than one class or three credit hours online. Such schools must confirm to SEVP, via Form I-20 “Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status,” that the student is not taking an entirely online course load. The school must also certify that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required for their degree program.
The exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees. These students are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
If a school currently set to conduct in-person classes has to switch to online-only classes, the school must update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change.
If a foreign student unintentionally ends up with an entirely online course load, the student must leave the US or take alternative steps to maintain their non-immigrant status.
Prior to the update, US law stipulated that non-immigrant students in the US are not permitted to take a full course of study online. SEVP did not enforce these rules during the spring or summer semesters of 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis.
A higher academic culture of welcoming foreign students
The number of foreign students in the US stood at 1,095,299 in the 2018/19 academic year, of which 51.6% pursued studies in STEM fields.
China is the largest source of foreign students in the US, with 369,548 students in undergraduate, graduate, non-degree, and optional practical training (OPT) programs in 2018/19.
Students from India (202,014), South Korea (52,250), Saudi Arabia (37,080), and Canada (26,122) are also widely represented throughout the country.
Foreign students injected $44.7 billion into the economy in 2018 and are a major source of income for US universities, as many pay full tuition.
Despite these valuable contributions to their host country and the US government’s celebrations of international exchange, foreign students are now being shut out during a global pandemic.
Due to lax policies and delayed responses to the health crisis, the US is experiencing a new surge in COVID-19 cases, forcing some schools that intended to resume in-person instruction this fall to switch to online education. And across US campuses, it is foreign students who are bearing the brunt of these shortcomings in governance.
Harvard University, after deciding Monday to carry out the full 2020/21 academic year online, expressed concerns with the new restrictions.
The top US academic institution boasts a foreign student population of nearly 20%. In an official statement, Harvard vowed to “work closely with other colleges and universities around the country to chart a path forward.”
“We must do all that we can to ensure that our students can continue their studies without fear of being forced to leave the country mid-way through the year, disrupting their academic progress and undermining the commitments—and sacrifices—that many of them have made to advance their education.”