The United States Immigration and Customs Department (ICE) has shut the doors on international students pursuing courses that have gone fully online due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The July 6 directive means that Indian students who are in the United States on an F-1 student visa or M-1 visa for vocational education will have to come back home if the course has gone online. It holds true for institutions like Harvard University as well. If the classes are online-only, the student may not be allowed to stay in the US.
In a statement, ICE said the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) had announced modifications to temporary exemptions for non-immigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester.
“Non-immigrant 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 US Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programmes that are fully online for the fall semester nor will US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States,” the ICE statement said.
Harvard University had on July 6 announced that in 2020-21, all classes will be held online. As per new ICE rules, Indian students enrolling into Harvard won't be allowed to stay in the United States.
According to the Open Doors Report 2019, there were 202,014 Indian students in the United States.
Immigration experts told Moneycontrol it is not clear how long students will be allowed before being sent back.
“Several students, including Indians, have valid F-1 visas. We don’t know what is the timeline planned by ICE to make students leave. This brings in a lot of uncertainty, especially since a lot of US universities have not even decided whether the courses will move full online,” said a Mumbai-based immigration expert.
ICE said that students enrolled in online-only programmes have to either leave or must transfer to an institute that has some offline classes.
Non-immigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by federal regulations. Eligible F-1 students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
Non-immigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—a mix 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 that the programme is not entirely online, the student is not taking an entirely online course this semester and students are taking the minimum number of online classes to make progress in their degree programmes.
Educational consultants are of the view that Indian students from remote corners of the country may find it tough to keep pace with online degree programmes if they are forced to come back home.
“Internet connectivity could be an issue. And, the US institutes would want to stay safe and may not side with the students. It is a tough choice,” said Delhi-based education consultant Sankar Sethuraman
Schools have to update their information on 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 online-only classes. It also has to be done if non-immigrant students change their courses and end up taking an entirely online course load.
Due to COVID-19, SEVP, however, has temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters. This policy permits non-immigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation.