online learning

Will Foreign Students Have to Leave the U.S. If their Universities Switch to Online Learning?

According to data from the Department of Homeland Security, more than 1.1 million foreign students currently have active student visas. The coronavirus pandemic forced most colleges and universities to switch to online learning (at least in part) in the Spring, and those plans might continue in the Fall. 

The U.S. government has come out with several conflicting policies regarding whether or not international students on student visas will need to leave the country. As it stands today, foreign students on visas can remain in the U.S. even if their colleges cancel in-person instruction.

July 6 Announcement by DHS Regarding Student Visas

In March, the DHS issued guidance allowing international students to remain in the U.S. even if their university or college opted for online-only instruction due to the pandemic. On July 6, the agency reversed that guidance and said that students would need to leave the country. 

Specifically, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications for F1 and M1 students taking online courses due to COVID-19. According to the July 6 announcement, F1 and M1 students would not be able to remain in the U.S. and take a full online course load in the Fall. Further, students enrolled in programs at schools that have gone fully online would not be able to enter the country. Students would either need to transfer to a school that offers in-person instruction or leave the country. 

Multiple Lawsuits Filed Against ICE

The abrupt course reversal by the federal government at the beginning of July prompted a slew of lawsuits. The first was filed by Harvard and MIT on July 8, claiming that ICE issued the policy arbitrarily without offering “any reasoned basis for the sudden and dramatic change of position.”

The schools accuse the Trump administration of using the policy change to attempt to get colleges and universities to re-open for in-person classes. The universities also state that the change in policy puts schools in a difficult position for the Fall semester, with classes resuming in less than a month. 

Finally, there is an overriding safety issue for universities, students, and faculty. For example, the median age of faculty at many universities is over 60, putting these people at greater risk of infection if forced to hold in-person classes. 

Similar lawsuits were filed by Johns Hopkins University, a group of universities in the Western U.S., a group of international law students at the University of California, Irvine, the state of New York, and a coalition of 17 states

Trump Administration Drops Online Student Visa Policy for Now

In a surprise development, the U.S. government reversed course on its decision to require foreign students to take in-person classes or leave the country. On July 14, just minutes before a hearing in front of a federal judge on the Harvard and MIT case, the judge announced that an agreement had been reached. 

The case was scheduled for a 90-minute hearing to address a preliminary injunction, but the proceedings were over in just a few minutes. U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs outlined a truce between the U.S. government and the universities.

Specifically, ICE agrees to revert back to the guidance that the agency issued in March, which allows international students to remain in the U.S. even if their college or university is only offering online instruction due to the pandemic. 

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who led the suit filed by the coalition of 17 states, tweeted that the new rule issued on July 6 was “illegal,” which was the reason for the many lawsuits. There is a chance that the federal government might try again, but their efforts are sure to be met with stiff resistance. 

Helping Students Seeking Non-Permanent Immigration to the U.S.

To qualify for an F1-visa, an individual must generally meet certain requirements. Some of these include showing that you:

  • Have a foreign residence with no intent to abandon it; 
  • Are entering the U.S. with the sole purpose of studying; and
  • Are qualified to pursue a full course of study. 

At Garmo Group, we work with clients from a variety of countries to assist with the complex student visa application process. We can provide guidance relative to the documentation required for an F1 or M1 visa. In addition, if you are already in the U.S. and need an extension or a change in status, we can help facilitate this through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

Many people come to the U.S. seeking higher education, but an essential part of this process is getting authorization through USCIS. If you need help facilitating this process or dealing with an obstacle, our firm can provide you with the assistance you need. We have more than 30 years of experience advocating for the rights of clients and their families. 

Contact our San Diego office now at 619-441-2500 or reach us online to schedule a consultation with an experienced California immigration lawyer.