New foreign students can’t enter US if online college classes, government says

A week after revoking sweeping new restrictions on international students, federal immigration officials announced on Friday that new foreign students would not be allowed to enter the United States if they planned to take their courses entirely online. this autumn.

In a memo to college officials, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said new students who were not already enrolled by March 9 “likely will not be able to obtain” visas if they intend to take courses entirely online. The announcement is primarily for new students hoping to enroll in universities that will conduct classes entirely online in the wake of the pandemic.

International students who are in the United States or returning from abroad and who already have visas will still be allowed to take classes entirely online, according to the update, even if they start teaching in person but as their schools move online in the face of a worsening outbreak.

The policy is a blow to colleges a week after hundreds of people united to push back against a Trump administration policy that threatened to expel thousands of international students. The rule was intended to ban all international students in the United States from taking fully online classes this fall, even if their universities were forced to switch to fully online education amid an epidemic.

The new order was released on Friday to clarify earlier directives from March 9 that suspended existing limits on online education for international students. The March guidelines were intended to provide flexibility as schools across the country closed campuses amid the pandemic, but universities said it was unclear whether they extended to new students.

In its memo, ICE clarified that the flexibility only applies to students “who were actively enrolled in a U.S. school on March 9.” Officials at some schools — including Harvard University and the University of Southern California, which are offering online classes this fall — had been similarly scared and had already told freshmen they couldn’t come from abroad.

“We feared it and we prepared for it. We are still disappointed,” said Brad Farnsworth, group vice president.

Harvard officials said they are asking Congress to extend the March guidelines to incoming students, but expect no changes by the fall quarter. New students can take classes online from abroad or defer enrolment, the school said.

In a message to students on Tuesday, Harvard’s undergraduate dean Rakesh Khurana said the school “abhors” any policy that forces officials to choose between “the health of our community and the education of our international students. “.

The rule threatening to deport thousands of foreign students if they took all their classes online was widely seen as part of Trump’s recent campaign to pressure schools and colleges nationwide to reopen this autumn.

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Immigration officials rescinded the policy on July 14 after it was challenged by eight federal lawsuits from states and universities. More than 200 schools had signed briefs supporting a lawsuit brought by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The policy was released as a growing number of colleges make the decision to hold full or primary classes online this fall. As virus cases continue to rise, schools including the University of California, Berkeley and Rutgers University announced the move this week.

Several education groups released letters this week urging ICE to allow all international students, including new ones, to enter the country even if their schools were operating entirely online. They said that many colleges have already prepared accommodation for international students, even in universities offering only online courses.

The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a coalition of university leaders, said it was disappointed with ICE’s decision on incoming students. This puts undue pressure on schools to at least provide in-person instruction, the group said.

But other elements of the guidance were a step in the right direction, the group said, including the clarification that students can stay in the United States even if their schools move to fully online instruction during the semester. .

Colleges across the United States are already expecting a sharp drop in the number of students coming from abroad amid the pandemic and a slowdown in visa processing. It is likely to deliver a financial blow to colleges that rely on income from international students, who typically pay higher tuition fees.

The country attracted around 1.1 million international students in the 2018-2019 academic year. The American Council on Education estimates that approximately 250,000 people plan to enter the United States for the upcoming academic year, as new or returning students.

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