International students could be forced out of the country if they take too many online only courses this fall — even though many universities are planning on using remote education to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The requirement could pressure international students to transfer to schools that are still planning on holding classes in-person despite the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in a press release Monday, referring to the visa classifications for academic and vocational students.
“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,” ICE’s announcement added.
Some students will be allowed to take a mix of in-person and online classes, ICE said, but their schools must certify that they’re not taking classes entirely online, and that “the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.”
Reaction was swift from professors, lawyers and analysts who said the move prioritized in-person classes over safety.
“This is a financial incentive to spread a deadly pandemic,” said the Georgetown public policy professor Donald Moynihan.
Miriam Abaya, a policy analyst at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, noted that students forced back home may have to contend with spotty internet connections and awkward time zone differences with their classmates stateside.
“This makes it so difficult for these students to continue to get the education they paid for,” she wrote.
The announcement adds to the chaos already plaguing college campuses. Harvard University on Monday joined several other universities in announcing that it would hold all classes online.
But, as Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council observed, “if the choice is stay at Harvard or leave the U.S. … many will choose to transfer.”
And there’s another COVID-related problem, he pointed out: “[M]any countries have blocked travel from the United States right now — because we’re a COVID hotspot.”