Foreign students taking online-only fall classes will have to leave U.S. under new ICE rule

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(Photo credit: OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

Foreign students who are studying in the United States will have to leave the country this fall if all of their classes are online, according to a new rule issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Students who can transfer to a school where classes will be held in person, however, will be permitted to remain in the U.S., Reuters reported.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many foreign students would be affected by the order.

“ICE said it would not allow holders of student visas to remain in the country if their school was fully online for the fall. Those students must transfer or leave the country, or they potentially face deportation proceedings, according to the announcement,” Reuters added.

The rule comes as colleges and universities around the country begin to assess whether they will reopen for in-person coursework amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The number of cases has risen dramatically in recent days as testing has been ramped up to identify the scope of the spread.

The vast majority of people testing positive are either asymptomatic or are experiencing very mild symptoms, according to some health officials who are monitoring the increases in high-positive states like Texas.

Some institutions have already said they won’t be holding in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year, including Harvard University, which will remain all online.

The ICE instruction applies to F-1 and M-1 visa holders, which are designated for vocational and academic students.

According to the State Department, 388,839 F and 9,518 M visas were issued to students in FY 2019.

The order also does not apply if a foreign student is taking at least some courses in person along with an online course load, as long as the institution they are attending certifies that the instruction is not all-digital.

However, ICE says that M-1 vocational students and F-1 English-language training program enrollees also cannot take any of their classes online.

The order is the latest in a series of immigration-related policies initiated by the Trump administration in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In April, as the pandemic was hitting New York City very hard and other parts of the county were experiencing rising numbers of cases, President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning most immigration for 60 days.

The decision was panned by the George W. Bush Presidential Center and other open-borders advocates who claimed it would do little to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The following month, some Senate Republicans urged the president to suspend all guest-worker program visas as the U.S. unemployment rate skyrocketed due to widespread coronavirus-related closures of businesses ordered shut by governors. GOP senators argued that when jobs became available again, Americans should have first dibs on them.

“The United States admits more than one million nonimmigrant guest workers every year, and there is no reason to admit most such workers when our unemployment is so high,” they wrote.

And last month, Trump signed an order curtailing the H-1B immigrant guest-worker program — again, so Americans throw out of work by coronavirus closures would have the first opportunity to get jobs as companies and firms reopen and put people back to work.

“The new order extends the measure and goes further by pausing new H-1B tech worker visas, H-2B seasonal worker visas, certain J work and education exchange visitor visas and L1 executive transfer visas,” Fox News reported. “It will be in effect until the end of the year and will not affect those who already have a visa.”

Jon Dougherty

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