By Arul Louis
New York, July 8 (IANS) Facing a firestorm of protests both abroad and within the US, the State Department is trying to reassure students and universities by reiterating that those taking a combination of in-person and online courses will be eligible for visas.
In a note headlined, “International Students are Welcome in the US,” the State Department issued the clarification on Tuesday.
“The United States has long been the destination of choice for international students, and we are pleased that many international students who had planned to study this fall in the United States may still have the opportunity to do so,” it said explaining the student visa restrictions announced by President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday.
The temporary modifications to the F-1 and M-1 visas for students that were announced by the Department of Homeland Security “will allow a mixture of both in-person and some online coursework to meet the requirements for nonimmigrant student status,” the State Department said.
It asserted, “This temporary accommodation provides greater flexibility for nonimmigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses across America.”
It cautioned that students qualifying for the visas will “still be subject to other visa processing or travel restrictions due to COVID-19.”
The policy announced on Monday said, “Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model – that is, a mixture of online and in-person classes a” will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.”
While some universities like Columbia and Yale have announced a hybrid system of online and in-person classes for the Fall semester that starts in August or September, others like Rutgers will be running their instructions online with few exceptions.
Universities are being forced to adopt online teaching – which many did midway through the last semester and for the summer session – because of local restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
When the next semester starts, they will be made to implement social distancing that will reduce the number of students who can be accommodated in classrooms and require a shift of online teaching.
There is also a lot uncertainty because of the flareups in COVID-19 cases in many states that will continue for several weeks, even as the pandemic was brought under control in states like New York, which are slowly reopening.
Adding to the shortage of in-person slots, some faculty members, especially those older or have other health problems, are reluctant to return to classrooms and will have to be accommodated.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)