International Students to Lose U.S. Visas If Classes Are Moved Exclusively Online, Says ICE

A new policy issued earlier this week by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has decreed that international students will not be allowed to enter or will be asked to leave the country if their universities opt to offer coursework entirely online this fall. 

This announcement — made by the Trump administration on Monday — has sent ripples through the higher education community, as many colleges and universities are still trying to discern the safest path forward for student learning this fall. 

Universities that begin the semester with in-person learning but revert to remote classes due to  worsening conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic will also see international students required to leave the U.S. in accordance with the new policy.

This measure is being seen as an effort to pressure universities into reopening their campuses, abandoning the cautious approaches currently under consideration by many, according to reports by The New York Times. 

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed a federal lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Boston on Wednesday seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of this policy. 

“For many of our international students, studying in the U.S. and studying at Harvard is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream,” penned Lawrence Bacow, president of Harvard University, in an open letter addressed to the Harvard community. “These students are our students and they enrich the learning environment for all. We fervently hope that, before long, the circumstances that necessitate online learning will pass.”

“As a university with a profound commitment to residential education, we hope and intend to resume full in-person instruction as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so,” he continued. “But, until that time comes, we will not stand by to see our international students’ dreams extinguished by a deeply misguided order. We owe it to them to stand up and to fight — and we will.”

This sentiment is echoed by owners and operators of student housing properties off-campus. “We offer housing to nearly 65,000 students around the country, some of which are international students,” says Alex O’Brien, CEO of Cardinal Group Cos. “These international students are an essential part of our housing communities and our universities and I hope that the current administration reconsiders this policy. We are sending the wrong message to these amazing young men and women from all over the world that have chosen to be educated in the U.S.”

Katie Sloan