ICE Says International Students Can’t Remain in US if Attending Classes Remotely

Recent spikes in the number of new coronavirus cases are threatening America’s reopening efforts, and suggest that some form of quarantine will persist through to the end of the year. In response to this possibility, many of America’s college and universities are announcing that some or all of their fall semester classes will be held remotely; other schools are still in the process of deciding how classes will be offered in the fall.

Either way, public health data are clear about one thing: we are still in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed over 130,000 American lives to date. College classes — wherein students spend an hour or more, indoors, crowded into tight quarters, and breathing recirculated air — can only exacerbate coronavirus spread on college campuses. While many instructors are still figuring out how to adapt their classes for remote learning (to varying degrees of success), one thing is irrefutable: online classes reduce the risk of coronavirus spread compared to in-person classes. Thus, it makes sense for schools to hold many of their fall classes — especially large lecture classes — remotely: this is the only solution that maximizes the safety of students.

And yet, in an announcement that is completely out of step from these discussions, ICE said today that international students on F-1 or M-1 visas will not be permitted to remain in the United States if they are taking all their classes online. Students attending schools holding some in-person classes will be permitted to take some (but not all) of their classes remotely, as long as the school certifies that they are taking the minimum number of classes online as would still allow them to progress to their degree. Students enrolled in schools that are offering all classes online would be required to transfer schools to avoid deportation.

Students who violate this policy will face consequences, including the possibility of deportation. In other words, this fall, ICE will require international students to take at least one in-person class – even at the risk of their own health – in order to remain in the country. Schools weighing how they will adapt coursework offerings for the fall will be incentivized to adopt a hybrid in-person/online model (or a fully in-person model) to protect international students, a decision that will risk not only the health of all students but also instructors and other campus staff.

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