The Trump administration announced a new set of immigration guidelines Monday that would bar many foreign college students from coming to—or remaining in—the U.S. this fall if they attend a college that will move teaching online. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued new rules that could see students in the middle of their college careers forced to leave the country ahead of the academic year that will surely look different than any previous year due to the coronavirus. “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,” an ICE statement reads. “If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
A number of universities, notably Harvard, have recently made the decision to switch to online teaching for the coming fall term in order to allow for social distancing and protect the general welfare of the students and administration. Harvard announced earlier on Monday it will conduct the entire academic year online, though some students, including all freshmen, would be housed on campus. “We are deeply concerned that the guidance issued today 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,” Harvard University president Larry Bacow said in a statement Monday evening. “This guidance undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programs while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic.”
There are still many more colleges currently in the process of coming up with plans for how to proceed amid the grim but increasing likely fact that the pandemic will upend the academic year. The majority of colleges (60 percent) say they are still on track for in-person teaching in the fall, while roughly a quarter of schools are using a hybrid model of online and in-class instruction, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Institutions, like Harvard, that are going totally online amount to 8 percent of schools, and another 9 percent are still undecided on how to proceed. These universities’ plans, however, could get usurped by the runaway cases.
In a typical year, the more than 1 million foreign students studying in the U.S. are required to attend a certain number of classes in person as a condition of their student visa. The requirement was suspended temporarily this spring as the coronavirus hit, sending the country scrambling into lockdown. The exclusion of foreign students could have a serious impact on American colleges’ already shaky bottom line, as an industry economic analysis found those students’ presence on American campuses amounted to $41 billion, supporting 458,290 jobs during the 2018–19 academic year alone.