ICE announcement in response to covid-19 crisis may hit over a million foreign students, including 250,000 Indian students.
More than a million foreign students in America, including over 250,000 from India have gone into a tizzy with a shock announcement from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
These foreign students pursuing degrees in the US will be forced to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only classes in the 2020 fall semester starting in September.
“The US Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester,” ICE announced Monday. “Nor will US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.”
The agency suggested students could consider transferring to schools with in-person instruction to stay in the US “or potentially face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.
READ: The fading charm of the F-1 student visa in Trump era (August 26, 2019)
The ICE announcement was billed as “temporary procedural adaptations related to online courses permitted by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) during the height of the Coronavirus Disease crisis. “
“There will still be accommodations to provide flexibility to schools and nonimmigrant students,” the agency said with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) planning to publish new procedures shortly.
India sent the largest number of students (251,290) to the US after China (478,732) in 2017 and 2018, according to SEVP’s latest ‘SEVIS by the Numbers Report’ 2018.
Coming as it did after President Donald Trump’s June 22 suspension of L-1, H-1B, H-2B and J-1 visas till the yearend, the new ICE move caused widespread consternation in academic circles.
The ICE move imposed a “blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools,” said Harvard University President Larry Bacow.
“We will work closely with other colleges and universities around the country to chart a path forward,” he said.
Before the ICE guidance was issued, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) had said that it will bring up to 40 per cent of undergraduates to campus for the fall semester, including all first-year students.
At least 23 percent of US colleges plan to offer some sort of hybrid model, including the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, and Northwestern, according to Verge.com.
“Kicking international students out of the US during a global pandemic because their colleges are moving classes online for physical distancing hurts students,’ tweeted Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“It’s senseless, cruel, and xenophobic. @ICEgov and @DHSgov must drop this policy immediately,” she wrote.
“So Trump is forcing foreign students to study in unsafe conditions during covid-19,” tweeted New York-based immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta noting students taking online courses will not get F-1 visas.
ICE said due to covid-19, SEVP had permitted F and M students to take more online courses than normally allowed for purposes of maintaining a full course of study to maintain their F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant status during the the spring and summer semesters.
Students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online, the announcement said.
Students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.
These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that the program is not entirely online.
The above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
Schools that offer entirely online classes or programs or will not reopen for the fall 2020 semester must complete an operational change plan and submit it to SEVP by July 15while those using a hybrid option must do so by August 1.
F1 visa: 595,569 were issued in 2014, with 173,062 of those refused (September 14, 2015)