Foreign students "must leave United States" if classes move online
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the US government has toughened its visa rules for foreign students, telling them on Monday that they will have to leave the country if their classes move online. This decision will affect thousands of students who visit the US every year, and is likely to build pressure on the universities to re-open by fall. Here's more.
In a statement, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), declared that non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 students can't attend all their classes online and remain in the country. "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," ICE added.
ICE revealed that neither will the State Department issue visas to students enrolled in online courses nor will Customs and Border Protection let them enter the country. Taking a threatening tone, ICE said students who don't abide by these orders will have to deal with repercussions. "They may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings," the body said.
To note, this directive came on the day when Harvard University declared that it would conduct classes online. Although 40% undergraduates will be permitted to remain on campus, they will be taught remotely, the Ivy League college said. Before Harvard, Yale University announced it would invite 60% of students on campus. Universities of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Georgetown, and Northwestern are also inclined towards online teaching.
ICE's new directive didn't find many takers. The American Council on Education, a body of school presidents, called the guidelines "horrifying," while underlining that schools were looking to re-open safely. The council's senior Vice President Terry Hartle said the order implies students will have to leave the US, even if their home countries have levied travel curbs. It's going to spark confusion, he said.
Similarly, the international education group NAFSA said schools must be allowed to take decisions for their own campuses. The body said the directive "is harmful to international students and puts their health and well-being and that of the entire higher education community at risk." Harvard University President Larry Bacow said he was concerned as the order takes a one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem.
Bacow said the guideline "undermines 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 pandemic." He added universities will work together to decide the future course of action.
Wading into the matter, Bernie Sanders said the cruelty of this administration is limitless. "Foreign students are being threatened with a choice: risk your life going to class in-person or get deported," Sanders reportedly added. But President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for re-opening schools by fall, claiming that Democrats want to keep schools shut for political, and not health, reasons.