On Monday, July 6th, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) modified their Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) for the fall 2020 semester. The temporary exemptions added state that students on F-1 (Academic Student Visa) and M-1 (Vocational Student Visa) will not be issued visas if their programs will be conducted entirely online in the fall semester. Students currently in the country who are enrolled in fully online programs must depart the country or transfer to a program with in-person instruction or face being deported. Furthermore, if a program begins their semester with in-person instruction and must switch to fully online instruction, schools have 10 days to inform the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. If this change in instruction style were to take place, international students must depart the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction. This decision has the potential to impact the roughly 1.1 million international students that hold student visas.
This decision comes as a number of higher education institutes and state education departments are releasing their reopening plans for the fall semester. On the same day as the ICE announcement, Harvard and Princeton released their plans for returning students for the fall semester. Harvard aims to return 40% of their undergraduate class for the fall semester and spring semesters. They specified that it would include their first-year class in the fall and senior class in the spring, as well as students that cannot have a successful learning environment at home. All other students will take classes remotely. Princeton has announced that they will be returning first-years and juniors in the fall and sophomores and seniors in the spring, with online instruction for those who are not on campus. The Cal State University System announced as early as May that they would be planning to have instruction almost entirely online. USC recently decided to conduct most of their classes online, a change from a decision in June to return students for in-person classes. These are just some examples of schools who may be reconsidering their return plans following the announcement from ICE in order to accommodate international students. The Institute of International Education reported that in the 2018/19 academic year, 5.5% of higher education students in the United States were international students. The combination of international travel restrictions, school policies adopting remote learning, and ICE’s recent announcement will likely cause a significant decrease in the percentage of international students in the 2020/21 academic year.
The combination of the announcement from ICE and rising cases around the country increase the potential that schools change their reopening plans and guidelines before classes resume. In the next few weeks, schools must weigh the health and safety of their students, the learning environment they strive to create, and the financial consequences of both remote and in-person instruction. As daily case numbers continue to set record highs, students, parents, teachers, and schools are preparing for a school year like no other.
Harris Manganiello is a rising Senior at Bates College pursuing a double major in Economics and Chineses with a concentration in Philosophy. He has interests in Public and Environmental Economics. He currently resides in Collegeville, Pennslyvania, and enjoys Ultimate Frisbee and spending time outdoors.