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New international students barred from US online-only classes

The international education sector has been frustrated by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmation that newly enrolled international students studying on fully online courses in the US will “likely not be able to obtain an F-1 or M-1 visa”.

New international students will not likely e granted visas if their courses in the US are conducted 100% online. Photo: Pexels/ Vojtech

"We are pulling the rug out from under their feet"

“Nonimmigrant students in New or Initial status after March 9 will not be able to enter the United States to enrol in a US school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100% online,” ICE said on its FAQ page on July 24.

Education associations have called for more flexibility for new international students, and have warned that the announcement threatens enrolment numbers as well as the US economy.

The news came days after Harvard University warned its international first-year students would not be able to arrive on campus due to federal visa restrictions. The university is planning for remote instruction for all this September.

This was galling as the sector took stock of the implications, even after ICE revoked a directive that would have prohibited all currently enrolled international students from taking all-online courses.

DHS’s unresponsiveness and lack of flexibility will cause long-term damage to the higher education sector

The Presidents’ Alliance said it was “deeply disappointed” that ICE failed to provide flexibility to allow first-time international students enrolled in online-only classes to enter the country.

It urged the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to allow all new international students to be able to study in whatever format, in a letter dated July 17.

“DHS’s failure to provide this needed flexibility will likely reduce enrolments by tens of thousands of students and cost the affected schools and their local economies millions of dollars,” said the organisation’s co-chair and senior advisor Louis Caldera.

“These students spend months – in some cases years – and tens of thousands of dollars preparing to come study here and we are pulling the rug out from under their feet.

“DHS’s unresponsiveness and lack of flexibility will cause long-term damage to the higher education sector and slow our economic recovery.”

All international students enrolled in full-time study at a US institution should be allowed to enter this country, American Council of Education president, agreed Ted Mitchell in a letter to DHS signed by over 40 organisations.

“International students are eager to come to the United States to start their education this fall so they can take classes in person (if they are being offered), engage in the campus residential experience to the extent possible, and at a minimum be on or near campus receiving technical and other support in order to have a safe and productive environment for learning,”

Some US institutions such as Dickinson College in Pennsylvania have said that although the fall 2020 semester will be remote, it will bring back a “small number of students” for on-campus residence including for international students who need to return to campus. Permission will be automatically granted, the institution said.

ACE is seeking clarification that hybrid status for institutions should “include any mode of instruction that requires the physical presence of an international student for any portion of an academic course, or for any portion of an academic term”.page2image15240

The organisation also urged DHS and ICE to allow students on F-1 or M-1 visa outside of the country for the next academic year to remain eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training from outside the US.

Australia recently said international students will be eligible for the post-study work route if they begin their studies online overseas, as has the UK and Canada.

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