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Will International Students Need to Leave the United States if Universities Move to Online Learning Only?

GraduationDue to the COVID-19 pandemic, life is seeing unprecedented changes. This is seen as schools across the nation work to decide how they can proceed with education when the fall comes around. While decisions are still being made, many universities in the country are entertaining the idea of moving to online courses only in order to keep students off campus and eliminate exposure to the virus. While helpful for health, this decision has the potential to impact thousands of foreign students who come to the United States to attend universities, practice in training programs, and those in non-academic or vocational studies.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stated in a news release that students who fall under certain visas “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.” In addition to this, ICE said, “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.”

Vice president of the American Council on Education, Brad Farnsworth, is concerned about the effect this decision can have on international students if the pandemic continues and more universities shift to online courses. Many countries around the world have travel restrictions due to the virus and Farnsworth worries about whether or not students can go home if they are not able to stay in the United States.

The strict requirements for international student visas is not new, and the United States has always prohibited coming to the country only for online-courses. However, there are many who argue that, under unprecedented circumstances, they should be lifted. As an alternative, ICE suggests that students who are currently enrolled in U.S. schools and programs should consider other options. This can include transferring to a school that will have some in-person instruction, as there are exceptions for students attending a hybrid model of online and in-person classes.

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