The US immigration authority has issued a new policy stating that freshly enrolled foreign students who are seeking only-online study this fall will be barred from entering the country, days after the Trump administration dropped its controversial plan to expel international students if their universities switch to online-only classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new policy was announced on Friday by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which said that its guidance granting visa flexibility to nonimmigrant students only applies to those who were actively enrolled at American schools on March 9.
Students and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security, in a revised guideline for Fall 2020, asked universities not to issue the necessary visa paper work for those international students who are fully enrolled in online courses.
The designated Dean of Students Office or DSOs should not issue a Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” for a student in new or Initial status who is outside of the United States and plans to take classes at an SEVP-certified educational institution fully online,” said the revised guidelines, which was initially issued on March 9.
"As a result, new or initial nonimmigrant students who intend to pursue a full course of study that will be conducted completely online will likely not be able to obtain an F-1 or M-1 visa to study in the United States,” said the guidelines issued jointly by SEVP and ICE.
"If a nonimmigrant student was enrolled in a course of study in the US on March 9, 2020, but subsequently left the country, that student likely remains eligible for a visa since the March 2020 guidance permitted a full online course of study from inside the United States or from abroad,” it said.
There are around 200,000 Indian students currently enrolled in the US. The number of those students who are enrolled in only online classes is not known. But given the status of coronavirus pandemic in the country, a large number of students - both domestically and internationally - are planning to opt for the online versions of the courses as much as possible.
"Non-immigrant students in new or initial status after March 9 will not be able to enter the US to enroll in a US school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 per cent online," said the guidelines.
However, those students who are already inside the United States and enrolled in only online courses will continue to maintain their legal status in the country, it said.
“Nonimmigrant students may remain in the United States to engage in full course of study online if they have not otherwise violated the terms of their nonimmigrant status since March 9, 2020,” it said.
This includes students who have remained in the US in active status and are starting a new programme of study that is 100 per cent online. These individuals do not need a new visa to continue their programmes of study.
Students engaged in 100 per cent online coursework will be able to maintain their nonimmigrant status and not be subject to initiation of removal proceedings based on their online studies, the guidelines said.
The SEVP monitors more than one million nonimmigrant students pursuing academic or vocational studies (F and M visa holders) in the US and their dependents. It also certifies schools and programmes that enroll these students. The US Department of State monitors exchange visitors (J visa holders) and their dependents and oversees exchange visitor programmes.
In a surprise move, the Trump administration last week dropped its controversial plan to deport international students if their universities switch to online-only classes in this fall semester due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The US immigration authority announced on July 6 that foreign students will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only classes during the September to December semester, triggering an outrage against its order.
A series of lawsuits were filed by over 200 educational American educational institutions, led by the prestigious Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) against the controversial order.
The agency said that for the fall 2020 semester students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the US.
The rule would have applied to holders of two types of visas, including F-1 visas, which allow nonimmigrant students to pursue academic coursework in the US.
As many as 17 US states and the District of Columbia, along with top American IT companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, joined the MIT and Harvard in the US District Court in Massachusetts against the DHS and the ICE in seeking an injunction to stop the entire rule from going into effect.
"I have been informed by the parties that they have come to a resolution. They will return to the status quo," Judge Allison Burroughs, the federal district judge in Boston, said in a surprise statement at the top of the hearing on the lawsuit.
International students enrolled in academic programmes at US universities and colleges study on an F-1 visa and those enrolled in technical programmes at vocational or other recognised non-academic institutions, other than a language training programme come to the US on an M-1 visa.