International students must leave U.S. if coursework is exclusively online: ICE

Media Credit: File Photo by Grace Hromin | Assistant Photo Editor

Jennifer Donaghue, the director of the International Services Office, said in an email following the announcement that she is "hopeful" officials can find a pathway forward to allow students to remain in the United States.

International students will not be allowed to remain in the United States if they do not take any in-person classes this fall, according to newly released regulations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The regulation, which was released Monday, stipulates that international students cannot remain in or return to the United States if their college delivers instruction entirely online or if the student chooses to not participate in face-to-face instruction for schools offering in-person or hybrid models. GW is planning to adopt a hybrid model in which students can take classes in-person or remotely, but officials said they are “prepared at any time” to switch courses entirely online this fall if necessary.

“The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States,” the regulation states.

International students attending schools adopting a hybrid model, like GW, will be allowed to take more than one class online, but the University must certify that students are not taking an entirely online course load and are enrolling in the minimum number of online classes required to make “normal progress” in their degree program.

“Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status or potentially face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” the regulation states.

GW enrolled 4,170 international students last year, according to institutional data.

Jennifer Donaghue, the director of the International Services Office, said in an email following the announcement, which was posted on the Facebook page Overheard at GW, that she is “hopeful” officials can find a pathway forward to allow students to remain in the U.S.

“If we are able to move forward in this direction, all initial and continuing F-1 students will need to have their I-20s re-issued with a notation that confirms their coursework is not solely online,” she said in the email.

Ted Mitchell, the president of the American Council on Education – which lists GW as a member institution – said in a statement that the move is a “big step” in the wrong direction.

“On its face, the guidance released today by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is horrifying,” he said in the statement. “While we would welcome more clarity about international students studying in the United States, this guidance raises more questions than it answers and unfortunately does more harm than good.”

Mitchell said if an institution shifts to exclusively online instruction midway through the semester, students may not be able to return home due to travel restrictions.

“Iron-clad federal rules are not the answer at this time of great uncertainty,” Mitchell said. “Imagine a student who starts in-person classes at a college that physically reopens. If the college decides it must shift to remote instruction midway through the fall, this guidance could force the institution to tell that student to leave the United States and face an impossible return to another country that has closed its borders.”

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