ICE issues directive to withdraw visa for foreign students in the US

International student visa
International student US Visa. [Photo courtesy]

Foreign students in the US risk deportation or leave the country voluntarily should their institutions of learning – universities – revert to fulltime online classes in the wake of coronavirus pandemic.

This is according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which made the announcement Monday.

This decision is set to hit hard about 1.2 million students who happen to be under the targeted visas, Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank indicates.

The students are spread through 8,700 institutions in the US. They are pursuing degrees, participating in training programs while others pursue non-academic courses or vocational studies.

ICE in the statement stated that: “The U.S. 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 U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.”

With the pandemic, many universities across the US are opting to take studies online.

According to CNN, Harvard has already transitioned to online learning. All course materials will be delivered meaning that even international students can still access them while in their countries of origin.

This directive has thrust many international students into untold certainty many saying they lack the means to return to their countries of origin.

“There’s so much uncertainty. It’s very frustrating. If I have to go back to Mexico, I am able to go back, but many international students just can’t,” said Valeria Mendiola, 26, a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

ICE maintained that international students enrolled in various universities in the US should consider “transferring to schools with in-person instruction.”

However, universities offering both partial online classes and in-person classes have been exempted from this order.

Brad Farnsworth, vice president of the American Council on Education said ICE’s directive is likely to cause more confusion and uncertainty.

“We think this is going to create more confusion and more uncertainty,” said Farnsworth.

Fransworth who organization represents 1,800 colleges and universities in the US questioned what will happen to institutions offering online and in-person classes should they be forced to transition fully to online tutoring due to increased COVID-19 cases.

While noting that visa requirements for international students are tough, Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center said lockdown in many countries in the world poses greater confusion for international students affected by ICE’s directive. 

“The bigger issue is some of these countries have travel restrictions on and they can’t go home, so what do they do then? It’s a conundrum for a lot of students,” she said.