ICE Announces Nonimmigrant International Students Must Learn In Person or Leave U.S.

An announcement Monday said that international students would need to leave the country if their coursework was exclusively online, and that arriving students whose fall course loads are fully remote will be unable to enter the country.


By Caroline Kubzansky, Managing Editor ('20-'21)

International college students will be unable to remain in the U.S. this fall if their classes are entirely online, per an order by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued Monday. 

Though the agency issued “temporary exemptions” for spring and summer terms for students whose coursework had gone virtual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, that exemption will not apply for the fall term. 

According to the announcement, universities with a “hybrid model” of both in-person and remote classes must fill out a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” certifying “that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.”

The University’s official approach to the fall quarter will be a hybrid model, with some online classes and some in-person classes. The University recently announced that all instructors will have the option to teach their courses online or in person for the fall quarter. In an email that has since circulated in the UChicago Mutual Aid Facebook group, Dean of Students in the College Jay Ellison said that that the University was “working hard to make certain that all classes that can be remote have a remote possibility.” 

The ICE announcement says that students enrolled in schools whose instruction is fully remote must either leave the country, transfer to a school offering face-to-face coursework, “or potentially face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.” 

For international students whose institutions are taking a hybrid approach to fall instruction, schools must specify via a “Certificate of Eligibility” that a student’s courseload is not exclusively virtual. International students whose classwork is entirely virtual would be required to take leave or reduce their courseload to retain their nonimmigrant status.

Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are suing the Trump administration over the order, arguing that the spring’s exemptions on virtual learning should remain effective as the COVID-19 emergency continues unfolding. The suit also accuses the administration of using immigration as a way to force universities to reopen more fully in the fall. 

This policy change applies to students with F-1 and M-1 visas for academic and vocational study. The Department of State will not approve these types of visas for students whose coursework will be online in the fall, meaning that students who were planning to go to school in the U.S. will either need to remain in their home country or find a way to have at least one in-person class. 

Pre-registration has not yet occurred, so students do not know whether any of their classes will be in-person or virtual.

In a statement to The Maroon, University spokesperson Gerald McSwiggan said, “The University is analyzing this announcement and its implications.”