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International Students Told to Leave US If Classes Go Fully Online

International student forced to leave

US student visas for international students will be withdrawn this year if universities decide to switch to online learning, the US Customs and Border Protection announced in a statement on Monday night. 

The US Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) said: "Non-immigrant 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". 

The vice president of the American Council on Education, Brad Farnsworth, expressed surprise at this announcement. He said to CNN: “What we were hoping to see was more appreciation for all the different possible nuances that campuses will be exploring.

“We think this is going to create more confusion and more uncertainty,” added Farnsworth.

What has US Immigration said?

The US ICE has said that international students who have already enrolled in a US university which has now moved classes entirely online, must either leave the country or transfer to a differing school that offers “in-person instruction”. 

In the statement, it said that the US "will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States".

If students don’t follow these rules, they may face a range of consequences including, but not limited to, “the initiation of removal proceedings”, whereby an Immigration Judge will decide whether or not to order the student to be removed from the US.

Who will be impacted by this?

This will affect all international students who starting university in the US this year whose lectures are now entirely online and any student who is already enrolled in a university course, which will be online only.

There will be an exception for universities using a hybrid model, offering a mix of online and in-person classes. International students at a US university offering this mix “may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online”, according to the new rules.

It is not yet clear how many students will be affected.

Harvard University’s switch to online learning

Harvard University announced in a statement this morning that all of their classes will online for the Fall term, even for students living on campus, to avoid the risk of spreading COVID-19. The university will still be charging full tuition fees – currently at US$51,900.

“Assuming that we maintain 40% density in the spring semester, we would again bring back one class, and our priority at this time is to bring seniors to campus,” the statement reads. 

“We also will invite back to campus those students who may not be able to learn successfully in their current home learning environment.”

In response to the new visa restrictions, the president of Harvard University, Lawrence Bacow, remarked that the school was “deeply concerned”.

He said: “The guidance issued by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposes a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools.”

Discounted fees for online learning at Princeton University

Princeton University will also be moving most of their teaching online, a statement revealed yesterday. However, to compensate students whose lectures have been moved online, there will be a 10 percent reduction in fees.

Princeton University’s president, Christopher Eisgruber, said: "Because we anticipate that most undergraduates will have the opportunity to study on campus only for one semester or less, we will discount the University’s full-year undergraduate tuition by ten percent for this academic year. 

“This discount will apply to all undergraduates, regardless of when or whether they are on campus.  We will also apply other discounts to the undergraduate fee package, including the pro‑ration of room and board charges for shortened semesters and the elimination of some fees."

MIT and Harvard to sue Trump Administration over visa regulations

Harvard University

In a further statement, released on July 8th, Harvard’s president announced that, along with MIT, the school has filed pleadings in the US District Court in Boston seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of this new order. 

This was done so that international students across the country “can continue their studies without the threat of deportation,” said Bacow.

Bacow stated that the new government order came “without notice” and that “its cruelty was surpassed only by its recklessness”. 

He said the government’s aim in devising these new rules was to place pressure on universities to fully re-open, which he believes would place students and staff at risk. 

“If an institution pursues in-person or hybrid instruction this fall and a serious outbreak of COVID-19 occurs, the institution would face strong pressure not to switch to online instruction, as Harvard and others necessarily did this past March, because to do so would immediately place its international students in jeopardy,” he explained.

He added: “We owe it to [international students] to stand up and fight – and we will. 

Creative solutions

Several universities, including Mizzou, The University of Southern California, Virginia Tech and Brigham Young University (BYU) and Utah Valley University, are coming up with creative ways to stop international students being deported under the new rules.

These schools are holding hybrid or ‘in-person’ modules which will enable international students to stay in the US under the new conditions.

Lecturers at BYU are offering hybrid courses for international students, to protect them against deportation.

The University of Southern California will be offering an in-person course for international students at no additional cost.


This article will be updated regularly to stay updated with incoming news.

Will you be impacted by the new visa regulations? Let us know in the comments below.

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Written by Chloe Lane
A Content Writer for TopUniversities.com, Chloe has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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