International Students May Need to Leave the US
International students may need to leave the United States if they are studying online.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement just announced modifications to temporary exemptions for international students taking online courses due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester.
As per the new regulations, international students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes. Students who find themselves in this situation as a result of the coronavirus pandemic must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status.
Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State will not issue new 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.
For the fall 2020 semester, continuing F and M students who are already in the United States may remain in Active status in SEVIS if they make normal progress in a program of study, or are engaged in approved practical training, either as part of a program of study or following completion of a program of study.
The update is a sharp contrast from U.S. immigration’s first response to dealing with international students during the pandemic. Originally, SEVP instituted a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters. That policy permitted international students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.
The shift comes at a time when schools around the country are grappling with how to operate in the midst of a pandemic. Many schools are turning to online learning as a solution. Approximately 9% of colleges are planning to open online for the fall while approximately 25% are proposing a hybrid model (mix of online and in-person). For students attending schools that are taking a hybrid approach, designated school officials must issue a new I-20 certifying that the school is not operating entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. Notable universities such as Rutgers, Harvard, Princeton and Georgetown have already announced plans to reopen largely online.
There will be a lot of students impacted by these new rules. During the 2018-2019 academic year, there were more than 1 million international students in the U.S. There are significant economic concerns as well. International students at U.S. colleges and universities contribute over $40 billion to the U.S. economy annually.