United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s move on Monday has left chiliads of foreign students in the U.S., including thousands of Indians in the toss-up of falling out of valid immigration status following a Department of Homeland Security rule on attending online classes.
The rule, announced by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in its notice said that the country would not allow foreign students to stay back in the country for the autumn semester if all their university classes are carried online amid the coronavirus pandemic. The notice also added that the students, however, could stay back if they shift to a course with in-person tuition.
WHAT ICE SAYS?
“Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. Active students 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. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
The rule will apply to all the F-1 and M-1 visa holders.
- F-1 visa holders pursue academic courses. The visa allows foreign students to enter the U.S. as a full-time student to attend college, university or other academic institution or a large training programme.
- F-1 visa holders are allowed to work on campus up to 20 hours/week during regular full-time quarters or semesters.
- While the M-1 visa holders pursue ‘vocational coursework’.
During the financial year 2019-20, the US State Department issued 3,88,839 F visas and 9,518 M visas, as per BBC reports. Because of COVID-19, several universities are planning to shift all their classes online for the fall semester, which starts in September.
President of Harvard University Lawrence Bacow criticized the ICE’s announcement and its “one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem”, as per the Harvard Crimson. Harvard had announced that it would allow only 40% of its students on campus in the fall.
Foreign students are a key source of revenue for many of the US universities. According to the US Commerce Department, foreign students contributed $45 billion (Rs 3.3 lakh crore) to the country’s economy in 2018.
The announcement came weeks after the U.S. suspended H1-B skilled worker visas through the end of the year. India, with at least 2,00,000 students, stands at the second rank for the United States’ foreign students’ source.
U.S. will not provide new F-1 visas to students who wish to start a new semester in Fall 2020, which will be online. If they host the programme online for the rest of the Fall semester, then the students already in the U.S. will have to leave the country.
IMPACT ON COURSES…
Those foreign students who will have to leave the U.S. can continue their courses online.
IF YOU FAIL TO RETURN FROM THE U.S…
In the above scenario, the U.S. will deport back foreign students and they may even face future bans on entry into the U.S.
HOW TO STAY BACK IN THE U.S. AND COMPLETE HIS/HER COURSE
- If your university offers a hybrid method of teaching i.e. alongside online classes, there should be offline classes in a physical classroom setting, then you can stay in the country.
- One also needs to get his/her university to certify to the ICE that the classes are hybrid.
- Also, one can transfer to another university which offers hybrid classes before the commencement of the Fall semester.
- However, the already enrolled students, who cannot return because of travel restrictions amid the pandemic, will have to remain in their home country until the travel restrictions are lifted.
OTHER VISAS BANNED BY THE U.S. SINCE JUNE 24
- L-1 visas for intra-company transfers
- H-1B visas for workers in speciality occupations
- H-4 visas for spouses
- H-2B visas for temporary non-agricultural workers
- J-1 visas for exchange visitors on a short-term basis like interns