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Foreign Students With Online-Only Courses May Need to Leave the US, ICE Says

A notice from the US' Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced that if a university shifts to online-only education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, non-citizen students would no longer be able to remain in the country under their current visas.

The ICE memo released on Monday, July 6 states: "The Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programmes 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 programmes 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 announcement is causing considerable concern, as many universities in the country are indeed transitioning to online-only education for the upcoming fall semester. Rutgers, Harvard, Princeton, Georgetown and Southern California have all announced in the last week plans to transition to all or mostly remote classes when classes resume. As America continues to struggle in its response to the pandemic, with 3 million known infections and over 130,000 deaths as of July 8, other schools may follow in their footsteps.

America currently has more than 1.1 million foreign students in the country on student visas, and Vietnam represents the sixth-largest country of origin, with 24,325 individuals enrolled as of the 2017-2018 academic year. The new rules could force many students to scramble to find a means to return to Vietnam, or find another university to take classes at.

Foreign students bring billions of dollars into the American economy and inviting them to study in the country is an important means to spread American culture abroad. This ICE announcement has been criticized by many as an extension of President Donald Trump's hard-line stances on immigration, both legal and illegal.

"This is a win for nativists and isolationists, but a major loss for the US, both economically and in terms of soft power," tweeted Dr. Elizabeth Popp Berman, associate professor of Organisational Studies at the University of Michigan.

[Photo via Columbia University]

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