By Nikhila Natarajan
New York, July 7 (IANS) International students in the US are panicking after a shock announcement by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Monday afternoon that slams the door shut on students with F-1 and M-1 visas if their universities move to online-only instruction during the Fall 2020 semester which begins early September, immediately after Labor Day weekend.
F-1 students pursue academic coursework and M-1 nonimmigrant students attend vocational courses in the United States.
Students enrolled in US universities that are moving to an online-only education model will be barred from getting F-1 visas, stopped from entering the US on F-1 visas and not allowed to maintain F-1 status in the Fall semester, according to immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta’s explanation of the one-pager ICE statement.
“So Trump is forcing foreign students to study in unsafe conditions during Covid-19,” Mehta tweeted.
The language of the statement terms the new rules as “modifications to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester”.
“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”, the first line of the July 6 statement says.
“The US Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States. 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. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
The Trump administration says it had allowed only a “temporary exemption” for online courses limited to the spring and summer semesters.
The ICE announcement comes at a time when the US leads the world in coronavirus caseload. Covid-19 has sickened more than 2.9 million Americans and killed more than 130,000 till date.