WASHINGTON: The United States would not allow foreign students to remain in the country if their classes are moved online in the fall season due to the coronavirus crisis.
“Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States,” US Immigration and Custom Enforcement said in a statement.
“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 said. “If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
ICE said the State Department “will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.”
Universities with a hybrid system of in-person and online classes will have to show that foreign students are taking as many in-person classes as possible to maintain their status.
The decision has been strongly criticised. “The cruelty of this White House knows no bounds,” tweeted Senator Bernie Sanders. “Foreign students are being threatened with a choice: risk your life going to class-in person or get deported,” he said.
Most US colleges and universities have not yet announced their plans for the fall semester. A number of schools are looking at a hybrid model of in-person and online instruction but some, including Harvard University, will conduct classes online.
Harvard said 40 percent of undergraduates would be allowed to return to campus but their instruction would be conducted remotely.
There were more than one million international students in the United States for the 2018-19 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE).
That accounted for 5.5 percent of the total US higher education population and international students contributed $44.7 billion to the US economy in 2018. The largest number of international students came from China, followed by India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada.
President Donald Trump has taken a particularly hard stance on foreigners since the health crisis began. In June, he froze until 2021 the issuing of green cards which offer permanent US resident status and some work visas, particularly those in the technology sector.