Jul 6, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Foreign students could be forced to leave U.S. if colleges move online

Harvard University
Harvard University campus. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Foreign college students could be forced to leave the U.S. or transfer schools if their universities move classes entirely online this fall, according to guidance released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Monday.

Why it matters: Several U.S. colleges and universities — most recently Harvard — have announced plans to move most or all courses online this fall due to coronavirus concerns. Many institutions rely heavily on tuition from international students.

Driving the news: Foreign students who are already in the U.S. or those hoping to come to the country on a student visa will not be allowed to take a full course load online, according to ICE.

  • Students can transfer to schools offering in-person options or else leave the U.S. and take online classes in their home country. Otherwise, they could face deportation.
  • "[S]chools like Harvard wouldn't lose tuition from students forced to leave the United States. Students could 'attend' classes virtually—in their home country," Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, tweeted. "But if the choice is stay at Harvard or leave the US... many will choose to transfer."

Between the lines: Foreigners on student visas are typically not permitted to take more than one online course while in the U.S. ICE, which sets rules for the F and M student visa programs, had made temporary exemptions for the spring and summer because of the coronavirus.

What to watch: Foreign students will be allowed to take more than one online course in the U.S. if their school offers a mix of online and in-person courses this fall. Those universities will have to prove foreign students are not taking all of their classes online.

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