As a number of campuses in the US have announced they will teach virtually for the fall semester, this new guidance effectively forces the hand of institutions to re-appraise their teaching plans or the feet of international students – to return home.
“Unfortunately, this administration continues to enact policies which only increase the barriers to studying here”
The guidance states: “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.
“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.
“If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
Esther Brimmer, CEO at NAFSA, tweeted that the move was “harmful to the health & well-being of students and puts the entire higher ed community at risk”.
In a press statement, NAFSA went further: “Unfortunately, this administration continues to enact policies which only increase the barriers to studying here, and that’s a serious concern.”
Various stakeholders have started a petition as the ramifications of the rule begin to settle.
The number of international students in the US during the coronavirus outbreak has remained high; an IIE survey that The PIE reported on indicated that over 250,000 international students remained on campus in the spring term.
Mirka Martel, the report’s author and IIE’s head of Research, Evaluation & Learning said at the time, “Since the Covid-19 outbreak, institutions reported that 18,551 international students have left. As a result, we saw that 92% of international students from these institutions have remained in the United States for the spring, whether on campus or in another location.”
The issue is made more complicated by the fact that a number of high-profile institutions, such as the Cal State university system, announced earlier this year that they would offer most classes remotely without face-to-face instruction in the forthcoming semester.
However, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 8% of 1, 075 colleges are planning for wholly-online instruction, while 23% are pursuing a hybrid model for the next semester. A further 8.5% were still considering and 60% were planning for in-person.
Andrew Ng, co-founder of Coursera, tweeted that the new policy, “regarding F-1 visa international students is horrible & will hurt the US, students, and universities. Pushes universities to offer in-person classes even if unsafe or no pedagogical benefit, or students to leave US amidst pandemic and risk inability to return.”
Zeeshan Malik, director of Marketing and Communications at Fairfax University of America, said the news has not only brought down a sombre mood within international education but will have severe economic consequences as many jobs in the industry relied on the potential of maintaining students in an online environment up until their visas could be processed at a later date.
“The government is now asking us to risk the health and safety of our students and staff, or basically shutdown”
“This further jeopardises job security and student consideration for the US as a study destination,” he said in a LinkedIn post.
“What remains to be seen now is how will schools further change their fall 2020 plans to accommodate this change in circumstance as well what new trends will take place with student choice.”
Dana Saif, founder and executive director at International Language Academy ILA, noted the impact on the ELT sector too.
“It’s appalling to say the least,” she wrote on LinkedIn. “As an independent ESL school, we worked so hard to survive with online instruction.
“The government is now asking us to risk the health and safety of our students and staff, or basically shutdown. Even if we implement safe social distanced classes, are international students willing to take the risk?”