With Shift To Online, International Students May Face Deportation

ICE said students need to take at least one face-to-face class to stay in the US, even as many schools plan to offer online-only courses.

By Jenna Fisher, Patch Staff
Jul 7, 2020 11:51 am ET


Harvard University President Larry Bacow said his school was deeply concerned about the move, calling it a “a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem.” (Jenna Fisher/ Patch)

CAMBRIDGE, MA — Immigration and Customs Enforcement will not issue visas to international students who are not enrolled in at least one in-person class this fall.

The new guidance could affect thousands of international students studying at colleges in Massachusetts and across the United States. It also is a departure from earlier guidance, when ICE said international students could stay in the country for the spring semester and summer sessions, even if their schools were only offering remote classes.

Colleges and universities now planning to transition to online only “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States,” ICE said in a news release 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.”

Instead, those students should leave the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction to stay legally, ICE said. But at most schools, the deadline for transfer applications has passed.

ICE said students who did not follow the new guidelines faced deportation.

Monday’s announcement came after Harvard announced its decision to hold all of its courses online for the upcoming school year, even as it plans to keep campus open to international students.

Harvard President Larry Bacow said his school was deeply concerned about the move, calling it a “a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem.”

“This guidance undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programs while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic,” Bacow said in a statement.

Bacow said Harvard planned to work closely with other colleges and universities around the country to chart a path forward.

“We must do all that we can to ensure that our students can continue their studies without fear of being forced to leave the country mid-way through the year, disrupting their academic progress and undermining the commitments—and sacrifices—that many of them have made to advance their education,” he said.

Officials at Bentley University, which is in the process of planning a return to campus in Waltham, echoed Harvard’s sentiment.

“It’s disappointing that the new guidance is not accommodating to these members of our university community who have been impacted by world events beyond their control,” said Associate Dean and Director of Bentley’s Center for International Students and Scholars Christine Lookner. “We hoped for guidance that would be in line with the spring and summer accommodations for international students, which allowed them to maintain their F1 visa status, regardless of course format.”

Lookner said the school was hopeful additional guidance would provide allowances for maintaining their immigration status.

Both Boston College and Boston University have also indicated they plan to allow for in-person classes to resume — with some caveats. The return to campus will mean students will have to be tested for the coronavirus, will have to wear masks and abide by distancing among other measures.

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