On 6th July 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency issued a directive that left approximately 1.1 million students in the U.S. anxious. The directive placed temporary restrictions on international students for the Fall 2020 Semester (September to December) in the lieu of the pandemic.
The directive clearly states that the international students holding either an F-1 or M-1 visa, studying in US universities that plan to take this fall semester fully online may return to their home countries. It also mentions that if they wish to remain in the country, they will have to transfer to a school/ program offering in-person instruction. Failing to do any of the following may result in their deportation. This directive comes in light when many Universities like M.I.T., University of Southern California, and other Ivy League colleges like Harvard and Columbia have decided to complete their fall semester 2020 online. Wherein, many countries have imposed travel restrictions which make this issue more serious.
What is an F-1 and M-1 Visa?
Any student who wishes to study in the U.S. requires either an F-1 or M-1 Visa depending upon the course and school they choose to study. F-1 Visa is issued to the International Students enrolled in any US University, or any other Academic Institution including language training programs. Whereas, an M-1 Visa is issued to the International students enrolled in Vocational or other recognized non-academic institutions.
The official statement clearly states that an International student legally cannot take more than 3 online credit hours per semester to maintain their visa status. The notification issued states the following:-
1) International students holding F-1 and M-1 visas, studying in schools operating entirely online, can stay inside the U.S. borders only if they take in-person classes too. If their school is opting for an online mode of instruction, in that case, they can either leave the country or transfer to other schools opting for in-person classes. Further, the U.S. Department of State will not issue new visas to the international students for the fall semester 2020 enrolled in schools/ programs that opt to take this semester fully online.
2) F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by the existing federal regulations and can take a maximum of one class or 3 credit hours online.
3) And Lastly, F-1 students attending schools opting for a Hybrid-Model (a mixture of online and in-person classes) will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.
Further, the schools are required to certify The Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) the mode of instruction they wish to opt for this semester. Further, they would also certify that the student enrolled will be taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in the degree program. But, the above restrictions do not apply to F-1 students enrolled in English Training Programs or M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees, as they are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
This issue has put Schools, Universities, and Students in an uncertain position. Many universities to date have not decided the mode of instruction to opt for this Fall Semester 2020 and many who have decided to go for a fully online course are reconsidering their decision. In an official statement of NYU President, Andrew Hamilton said that “requiring international students to maintain in-person instruction or leave the country irrespective of their own health issue or even government-mandated lockdown is just plain wrong and needlessly rigid.” Major associations of universities are in talks with the federal government to extend the flexibility to attend online classes to international students as it would prevent further spread of Coronavirus in America. Whereas, Universities like M.I.T. and Harvard have moved to the court in despair, and are seeking a restraining order.
In response to this, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in an interview with CNN defended this policy. He clearly stated that “if they are not going to be a student or study 100% online, then they don’t have the basis to be here”. He further adds, that ‘there are many schools who have opted for a hybrid model, and if they haven’t the students can easily complete 100% online course from their home country.’
According to IIE, international students contribute $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy and make about 5.5% of the entire U.S. higher education and enrollment (Report of U.S. Department of Commerce, 2018). In addition to this, financial support to most of these students comes from overseas. Wherein, for about 57% of students say that it comes from their own personal or family income. Whereas, another 5% say that it comes from foreign governments, foreign universities, and overseas sponsors.
According to Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the American Council on Education, this decision has its own negative. As he said, “Many internationalstudents pay full tuition, and that is a source of revenue that enables schools to offer more student aid and other discounts to other students”. Thus, the tuition fee paid by international students constitutes a major source of revenue for the U.S. Universities. Hence, indicating the economic repercussions of this decision.
The international students also contribute to the vibrancy of the universities and bring in diverse skills and knowledge to these universities. With the help of them, these universities can build a more inclusive community. Apart from the economic or even cultural benefits these students bring to the U.S., these students work hard to get into these universities, and now they stand in a very uncertain position. Many students don’t have the means to go back to their home countries nor do they have the resources available there to take online classes there. While this issue remains a debatable topic for the US Government and various Administrators of universities, it has left students clueless in their struggle to continue or pursue studies abroad. The present scenario thus does not provide respite as the brawl seems to have just started.
Written by: - Vanshika Arora