Updated: Oct 18, 2021
On Monday, July 6, 2020, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a new policy that will prevent international students on F-1 and M-1 visas from attending U.S. colleges with fully virtual curriculums in the fall. According to the new policy, foreign students enrolled in colleges operating entirely online “may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
The new rule puts students in an uncomfortable predicament, forcing them to choose between attending in-person classes during an unprecedented pandemic or taking these classes online from their home country.
Considering the fact that many colleges such as Harvard University have already committed to only online classes in the fall, many international students face no choice but to transfer to other colleges if they hope to maintain their livelihood in the United States.
Proponents of the new ICE policy claim that with classes online, returning home will be beneficial for international students as they can be next to their family and have the opportunity to minimize the amount of money they spend here in the United States. However, many international students come from countries in different time zones than the U.S. and will be forced to take classes at an uncomfortable time once they restart in the fall. Online courses also require reliable Internet access which may not be available to students once they return to their home country; many countries suffer not only from slow Internet speeds, but also a heavily censored system.
The new move by ICE could also greatly affect the American economy. In fact, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, foreign and international students contributed $45 billion to the economy in 2018. Many students have already invested a significant amount of money into their studies with leases, cars, and other belongings that would be difficult to leave behind.
The scarcity of international flights and travel restrictions imposed on the U.S. due to its large number of coronavirus cases, makes finding flights extremely difficult and a burdening expense for many international students. Additionally, the health impacts of traveling via air during a pandemic are extremely dangerous: according to the Center for Disease Control, air travel increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.
ICE’s new policy aligns well with President Trump’s continuous push for installing swift reopening measures for schools. In fact, he claimed in a tweet made on July 6 that “corrupt Joe Biden and the Democrats don’t want to open schools in the Fall for political reasons, not for health reasons!”
Corrupt Joe Biden and the Democrats don’t want to open schools in the Fall for political reasons, not for health reasons! They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 6, 2020
With more than 1 million international students in the country, many universities will face budget cuts without their foreign students who often pay higher tuition fees, forcing them to compromise on the safety and health of the student body in order to open schools and provide in-person classes. With supply shortages, including a shortage of COVID-19 tests, and the lack of proper infrastructure to deal with a pandemic in many universities, the consequences of reopening may be drastic.