New foreign students can’t enter US for online courses
Newly enrolled international students, including from India, will be denied entry into the US for starting their studies if their courses will be taught fully online in the fall semester, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.
The move, announced late on Friday, came days after the US on July 14 withdrew a rule that required international students, including hundreds of thousands of Indians, to leave the country if their institutes held classes entirely online in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has prompted social distancing measures and severely affected international travel.
“Non-immigrant students in new or initial status after March 9 will not be able to enter the US to enrol in a US school as a non-immigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online,” said the ICE statement. It directed universities against issuing Form 1-20s, required to apply for student visas, to newly enrolled students if their classes were to be online only.
March 9, the cut-off date, is when ICE issued guidelines allowing foreign students to continue to stay in the country and pursue their classes online, wholly, as required by the universities. It made an exception in view of the Covid-19 pandemic to a rule under which foreigners are not issued student visas for online-only classes.
Ishmeet Bagga, co-director at Mindscan education, which offers overseas education consultancy and career counseling, said: “A lot of undergraduate students do not mind the online programme since they have a four-year course. So even if they end up taking six months of online lessons, they know that they can study in the US for the next three-and-a-half years. Postgraduate students, on the other hand, are rethinking their decision.”
Sangram Mukherjee, a Mumbai resident who planned to begin his postgraduate degree in the US this year and secured a scholarship, said he was selected in two universities. “However, only one of them offered a three-fourth reduction in tuition fee for online classes and that was a factor in choosing the university...while it has given the choice to students to opt for online or offline classes, I have chosen to defer my admissions till January due to the uncertainty arising out of the Covid-19 situation.”
A 26-year-old anthropology doctoral candidate enrolled at the City University of New York said the decision was disappointing, but not worrying. “The courses will be held online for all students...,” the doctoral candidate said. “But it’s disappointing since I was excited to move to New York.” “Moreover, if I had fallen sick in the US, health care would have cost a significant amount. We are hoping the situation normalises by January and then we can join our universities,” said a Production Masters students who still is deciding between a university in California and New York.
The number of foreign students impacted by the new order could not be immediately ascertained. There were nearly 270,000 new foreign students enrolled in graduate, undergraduate and non-degree courses for the academic session starting 2019 fall, according to Open Doors, a standard resource on international students. The US admits an estimated one million international students annually and they generate around $41 billion worth of economic activity and support 450,000 jobs, according to the American Council on Education, which represents US colleges and universities. Incomes generated from foreign students are critical to the financial health of many US colleges. According to the Student and Exchange Visitor Programme, 194,556 Indian students were enrolled at various academic institutions in the US in January. India is the second-largest source of foreign students .
Universities are being extra vigilant as the US is facing a second surge in Covid-19 cases and fatalities. Harvard University, for instance, has declared its fall classes will be all online.
Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit challenging the earlier plan announced on July 6 that sought to strip foreign students of their visas if they did not attend at least some classes in person. Over 200 universities later backed the lawsuit.