International College Students Must Take Classes In Person Or Face Possible Deportation

( Many international students may be forced to leave the country or transfer to another school if their college only plans to offer online classes in the fall.

New guidelines issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement require international students to take some of their classes in person. New visas will also not be issued to any foreign students who will be taking all their college courses online in the fall.

As the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced on Monday:

“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.

“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.”

Universities are required to certify by next week (July 15) whether they plan to be completely open, offer classes online only or have a hybrid model. This short timeline, plus the drastic change in approach, has many people in the education community concerned. One is the associate vice president of federal affairs at the Association of American Universities, Lizbet Boroughs, who said:

“What is just, to me, absolutely staggering is we have been asking for this guidance since April. [Universities now have] nine days to respond. There’s just tremendous concern about trying to protect current students who are members of their communities, and their educational investment.”

And the director of government relations for the American Council on Education, Sarah Spreitzer, said:

“Our institutions right now are struggling to figure out what the fall is going to look like, how best to serve their students, while keeping everybody safe. This is just going to make things more complicated.”

Spreitzer said many universities were moving to online-only classes for the fall to protect international students from a surge in coronavirus infections. Now, she is concerned that universities may suddenly change course just so that they don’t lose these students.

Recently, the California State University System said classes at all its campuses would be held online in the fall as the coronavirus spiked in their state. Now, international students who attend one of the schools in the system could be forced to leave the country.

The University of Southern California also acted swiftly last week, using a recommendation that all undergraduates take classes online in the fall and not to live near or on campus.

In addition to concern about students who are attending schools that have already announced online-only plans for the fall is the fact that students aren’t exempt from the rules if their schools change course mid-term and move all classes online as a result of an outbreak. In that scenario, a student may be forced to leave the country in short order, but then possibly face a restriction or outright ban on returning to their home country.