The US Immigration department on July 6 announced that no student visas will be granted to international students pursuing online academic programmes. Students already in the US will also not be allowed to stay back unless they are taking in-person classes, the United States Immigration and Customs Department (ICE) said.
This comes as a big blow to international students, especially Indians, who had been eyeing higher education in the US and were either already in the country or planning to enrol for the fall semester.
A total of 1,095,299 international students were studying in the United States as per the Open Doors Report 2019. Of this 202,014 or 18.4 percent students were Indians.
While clarity is still awaited on the new guidelines, we at Moneycontrol try to explain what the changes could mean:
To begin with, what exactly has ICE said?
ICE said that international students will not be given a student visa (F-1 or vocational course M-1 visa) if they pursue a course in the United States that is offered fully online. This is applicable for the Fall 2020 semester that will begin from the end of August.
But, I am already in the US so I should be safe, right?
No. International candidates in the US on an F-1 visa would be allowed to stay back only if there are taking an offline in-person course on a physical campus.
So, will I be deported?
Technically, yes. ICE has said active students currently in the US enrolled in courses that are now being offered online due to the coronavirus outbreak must either leave for their home country or apply for transfer to another institute that is offering in-person classes. If not, they may face immigration consequences including deportation.
But I have been legitimately selected for a programme at an Ivy League institute. Why will I be forced to leave now?
Unfortunately, ICE has not excluded any institute from this requirement. So even if you are enrolled at an Ivy League institute such as Harvard University, you would be asked to go back home and continue online lessons.
Coincidentally, Harvard University on July 6 stated that the institution would be moving classes online for the academic year 2020-21.
But shouldn’t my institute take responsibility?
Even though you may be legally enrolled into a US institute, if classes move online you would be mandated to go back to the home country. Your university may not want to risk their future by illegally allowing you to stay back.
ICE has, in fact, asked all US institutes to present a ‘Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status’ stating that the programme is not entirely online.
My programme is not fully online. Does this apply to me too?
There is a limit on how much of a programme can be online. In institutes offering online plus offline classes model, international students will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.
Hence, if a higher proportion of the course/credit hours is online, you could be sent back.
I am planning to go by January since my institute has offered the option. Will ICE rules still apply to me?
Even if your US-based institute has offered the facility of joining classes at a later date, your student visa will be approved only if in-person classes are held. Despite having a valid acceptance letter, you will not be allowed entry into the US if classes are fully online.
What if my institute shifts classes online after a few weeks? How am I responsible?
The institute has to update the information with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change if they begin the fall semester with in-person classes but are later required to switch to only online classes.
Even if you as a student changes the course selection and take up a full course online, you cannot stay back.
But hadn't the government itself offered this exemption earlier this year?
Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Student and Exchange Visitor Programme had instituted a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted non-immigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation.
But ICE has now clarified that this exemption was temporary in nature and was only taken due to the emergency caused by the pandemic.
I don’t have access to the internet back home in India. Can I seek exemption from this new rule?
ICE has neither offered any exemption based on income category nor has it allowed students with inadequate facilities in their home country to stay back. So if you don’t have a laptop/computer with working internet connection back in India, you would still be mandated to return to the home country.
How long can I now stay in the United States as a student?
ICE has not yet given details about the timeline for students to transfer at an alternative in-person class. It is likely that these details will be out over the next few days. Talk to your respective institute to find out if a hybrid model can be adopted so that you could stay back under the student visa.
Will I be able to ever return to the US?
Most educational institutes have said that 2020-21 academic calendar will be fully online. Though the ICE guidelines are only applicable for the Fall 2020 Semester. Immigration experts have said there will be a status quo on these new norms, meaning students cannot apply for a student visa if the course is fully online.
Will I still get my degree?
The online courses offered by the institutes are an exact replica of offline course modules. Hence, as an international student your academic future remains intact. Just that you would have to study from elsewhere.
Will I get any fee refund from the university?
Unfortunately not. All US institutes have clarified that even if classes move online and students are required to log in for live lectures from home, the fee structure will remain exactly the same. What you do save is living expenses.