In a move that’s been lambasted as possibly disruptive to hundreds of thousands of international students, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Friday that new foreign college students would be barred from entering the United States if all their fall courses are taught online.
The new guidance comes less than two weeks after ICE rescinded a directive that would have prohibited any international student from coming to the U.S. for online-only study. That rule, which was met with strong opposition and at least eight federal lawsuits, would have applied to current foreign students as well as incoming ones; current students would have had to transfer to a different school where in-person classes were being offered in the fall or be forced to leave the country.
Universities nationwide — many of whom have announced online-only classes for the coming semester amid the coronavirus pandemic ― had decried the far-reaching policy.
Larry Bacow, the president of Harvard University, which, along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sued the Trump administration over the rule, said at the time that ICE was imposing “a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem.”
In the face of that backlash, the Trump administration swiftly walked back its original rule, but on Friday, ICE said it planned to enforce a limited version of the policy.
International students in “new or initial status” after March 9, 2020, “will not be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online,” the agency said in a statement.
The new guidance won’t apply to international students who had already begun college.
ICE also clarified that new foreign students attending universities that are currently planning to offer in-person classes will also not be compelled to leave the country if their schools later choose to switch to an online-only program.
“Nonimmigrant students pursuing studies in the United States for the fall 2020 school term may remain in the United States even if their educational institution switches to a hybrid program or to fully online instruction,” the agency said, according to Inside Higher Ed. “The students will maintain their nonimmigrant status in this scenario and would not be subject to initiation of removal proceedings based on their online studies.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said the new policy will nonetheless disrupt the lives of many students. “Once again, this administration is exploiting the pandemic to target immigrant youth.”
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