Monday, July 06, 2020

Classes Going all Online? ICE says Foreign Students Must Leave the Country


Returning to campus in the fall for many college students is still a movable feast:  Some schools such as CSU came out early to state that students would be online for the fall while many others have had a wait and see attitude.  Today, Harvard announced a mixed offering for students with some on-campus and others having to take their course load online.

This unsettled environment has raised all kinds of questions for students, administrators and faculty and aside from the obvious health issues and risks, there have been very legitimate questions raised by all parties - but particularly students - on the 'value' on on-line learning versus the in-clasUs experience. For example, college and graduate schools are facing pressure over the tuition price differential between the tradition on-campus delivery and the on-line products which many colleges and graduate schools have launched and promoted to address broader constituencies. Pricing for the on-line only programs was lower than the on-campus version and prior to Covid-19 differentiation was easy to define; however, when all courses are delivered online the differences may be scant.

Today the difference between online and in-person education hit another road block: The US Immigration and Customs Service (ICE) modified their Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to exclude on-line education from their permitted exemptions.  This new guidance was published on the ICE site as follows:
Temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester include:
  1. 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. 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.
  2. Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
  3. Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” certifying that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. The above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
Students attending education institutions under the above visa requirements are required to register withing 10 days if there are any changes in their programs. This set of requirements will likely cause confusion and further possible financial issues for schools already impacted by a decline in profitable foreign student populations.  Whether a campus moves courses online or not will be outside the control of all students but if here on an F-1 visa a student may face dire consequences:
If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.
Whether this issue impacts decision making on-campus remains to be seen but, with the financial model of many schools under threat, this additional issue is not what they were looking for. Sadly, support from the federal government is in short supply when it comes to extending the global (soft) influence of the US through education or shared work experience.  Hopefully better days may be on the horizon.

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