As the pandemic continues, colleges and universities are navigating how students will attend classes, with sixty percent of schools currently on track to reopen campuses in the Fall. But the Immigration Customs and Enforcement Agency (ICE), which largely runs the student visa program in the U.S., has released a new statement detailing how international students will be impacted if schools hold online-only classes next semester.
On Monday, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) stated that students attending school in the United States who are here on student visas must leave the country if schools are hosting online-only classes. This would affect more than one million international students, as well as new students who would not be allowed to enter the U.S., as established by Custom and Border Protection.
“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,” the ICE statement explains. “If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
This news also comes after the Trump administration expanded a ban on most legal immigration through the end of 2020 last week. According to Fiona McEntee, an immigration lawyer who spoke to NPR, many students enrolled at colleges and universities in the U.S. on visas are limited in the number of online courses they can take, though international students were given flexibility for the spring and summer semesters when the pandemic began. But the new ICE rule is an update to the previous workaround granted to students.
President Donald Trump has not yet made a public statement about the agency’s decision, though staff and faculty from schools have already begun to speak out. A massive online movement was sparked after the announcement, with people taking to the hashtag #StudentBan to defend students’ rights and to educate international students on how to navigate these changes.
Students from University of California schools have begun creating spreadsheets to work together to find solutions. Jenny Lee, a professor of higher education at University of Arizona, tweeted for students not to worry too much because “we will fight this” after University of Arizona Global released a statement saying they’re here to support students. Additionally, a professor at University of Maine, Dr. Jacqueline Gill, stated that she’s reaching out to her students and talking with her administration about plans to support international students.
Still, many campuses will be operating again this Fall, with several proposing a hybrid model where some classes would be online and some would be in person. ICE’s statement on international students who are attending schools adopting a hybrid model says that they will be allowed to stay if schools can certify that their program is not entirely online and that a student is “taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.”
But the damage of ousting millions of students who are unable to attend in-person classes during the pandemic could be irreparable. "It's an unprecedented public health crisis, and I don't think it's too much to ask for the allowances that they made to continue, especially given the fact that we clearly, quite clearly do not have a handle on the pandemic here right now, unlike other countries that have," McEntee told NPR.
It's currently unclear how colleges will fight back against the proposed bans. Still, colleges will now be forced to get creative about how they proceed, both to avoid the severe risk of coronavirus infections and to prevent sending international students away.
"We left our home country to pursue our dreams. We had to prove that we are hardworking, talented individuals. We had to walk into an embassy, stand at a booth, and convince them we will be an excellent, civil, international student or worker. We spent thousands to come here and we fought to stay," Hearin Ko, a former New York University student wrote on Instagram. "We are no longer welcome here."