In a move that many have condemned as “mean” and “racist” the Trump administration announced that international students on F-1 and M-1 student visas will be barred from the United States, starting this September if the educational institution that they are enrolled in operates under an online-only course model amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement was announced on Monday, and puts pressure on universities across the United States that have not yet announced whether they plan to hold in-person classes, online / virtual classes, or hybrids of both.
With the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic across the U.S., and the Trump administration unable to provide a coherent and scientific based the pandemic is racing across the U.S. at unprecedented levels in more than 36 states as state officials reclose many cities and states that have reopened too early.
According to ICE, international students who are studying in the U.S. on student visas whose schools decide to only offer online classes, must leave the U.S. if they are already present, and students who had planned to enter the U.S. for their studies will be prohibited from entry.
According to data from the Department of Homeland Security there are more than 1.1 million foreign students who currently have active student visas, and the largest single bloc of students – with more than 633,000 coming from Asia, including 369,548 Chinese; 202,014 Indian, 52,250 South Korea; and approximately 10,000 students from Hong Kong, Japan, Southeast Asia and Taiwan.
ICE said in its announcement that, "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."
The new rules apply to people with F-1 visas – the kind of visa required for international students to attend high school, college or several other kinds of educational institutions in the U.S. – as well as students with M-1 visas, which are required for vocational programs.
Students who go to schools that operate under hybrid models of teaching this fall, offering both in-person and online classes, will be allowed in the U.S. as long as they are "taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program" and are not taking a fully online course load, ICE said.
The government made exceptions to the normal student visa regulations this spring and summer, temporarily allowing international students to take more online classes than is usually permitted as the coronavirus situation changed rapidly and schools shuttered. Students enrolled in online-only schools do not typically qualify for student visas.
The announcement came hours after Harvard University said on Monday that it would only offer online classes for the 2020/2021 school year, becoming the latest institution to announce an online-only operating model for at least the fall semester.
While international students make up only 5.5% of the university and vocational institute student base, some universities have much higher percentages of international students in their student bodies. In the case of Harvard, international students make up 21.1% of its student body, while other institutions; such as the University of Southern California have 25% of their students coming from foreign countries.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has been tracking the plans of nearly 1,100 colleges and universities and reports that 60% are planning to hold in-person classes, 8% are planning to be only online this fall, 23% say they will use a hybrid model of in-person and online and 8.5% are still looking at their options and deciding their model for the fall.
Several colleges and universities that had been planning to only offer online classes in the fall, have said that they plan to review the new ICE regulations and will determine whether they can modify their plans, and offer the “minimum” amount of in-person classes so that international students planning to enroll, or who are already enrolled in their institutions can continue with their education plans.
Critics of the Trump administration and the new ICE regulations note that the continued growth of international students going to the U.S. for higher education has had a significant positive economic impact on the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), international students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018.
As the number of international students continues to grow the DOC had estimated that they would contribute $48 billion in 2020, with each international student spending an average of $43,600 on their education and living expenses.