US Will Send International Students Home If Classes Go Online Amid COVID-19

As hundreds of colleges and universities contemplate how to continue teaching amid the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, students studying in the country on non-immigrant visas will not be able to remain in the States this fall if they are attending schools operating entirely online.

In a press release shared Monday (July 6), the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced there will now be new “modifications” to existing exemptions for students amid the pandemic, including that “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.” Additionally, incoming students at schools teaching online-only courses will also be prohibited from entering 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 announced. “If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

US immigration authorities have been giving exemptions to non-immigrant international students to take more online courses than would be acceptable otherwise — the new announcement would essentially bring an end to those allowances.

However, these modifications will not hinder every non-immigrant international student as many universities are tentatively hoping to make a full return to their usual teaching, whereas others are considering a “hybrid” method that involves at least some classes to be taught in person.

Still, international students may be met with challenges returning home if the pandemic worsens in the months due to high infection rates around the globe. ICE, however, has not made it clear whether they would be obliged to assist them if this happens to be the case.

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