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New rules released for international students amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 6:34 PM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-08 19:34:31-04

As schools try to navigate through what the fall semester will look like during COVID-19, many are moving towards online learning. But according to U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, if a school moves solely to online classes, international students will not receive visas from the U.S. State Department.

ICE announced the new policy change to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program on Monday.

The policy states, "non-immigrant 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 policy also 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 change's to the SEVP program left many international students with questions.

“Will I be out of compliance and what does that mean, where do I go, do I have to leave or go home,” these are questions David Birner Assistant Vice President of International Affairs for Concordia University said he has received recently.

Concordia University is made up of 400 international students. Birner said the school is moving to in-person classes in the fall with some online courses, he said he's working with students individually to make sure the policy change doesn’t impact them.

“They will be taken care of and we will have the courses required for them and moving forward with international students and helping them maintain their compliance,” said Birner.

Officials with the University of Wisconsin Parkside and the University of Wisconsin Madison said they are also doing the same, working with their international students and reviewing the policy change. A statement sent on Tuesday by Tammy McGuckin, Vice Provost of Student Affairs & Enrollment Services at the University of Wisconsin Parkside said:

“We are aware of the changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced yesterday by ICE. Currently, UW-Parkside plans to offer a mix of face-to-face and online courses for the Fall semester. We are in the process of reviewing our international students’ fall course schedules to determine if this change in policy adversely affects any of them. We will work with impacted students on an individual basis.”

According to the new policy, if the school offers a hybrid learning option, meaning face-to-face and online courses, the student must certify that they are not taking solely online courses.

Birner said it’s important to keep international students at the University because are essential and valued members of their campus community.

The policy change also states ICE instituted a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted non-immigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their non-immigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.

To read the full policy click here.

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