The U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), on Monday announced a much-needed update regarding the guidelines for foreign students hoping to return to campuses for the autumn semester.
A statement published on ICE’s website clearly spelled out the guidelines. Unfortunately, for some of the foreign students, these guidelines might as well come across as confusing instead of straightforward/explanatory.
Before we proceed to ICE’s modified guidelines, it is important to first note that some American universities have announced various modalities for class attendance amid the ravaging pandemic. For instance, while some schools said their classes can only be attended online, for now, others said they are committed to regular classroom settings, even as some others have plans to combine both face-to-face lecturing and online classes.
As a foreign student planning to return to school in the USA this autumn, the modality adopted by your school will simply determine how ICE’s new guidelines will affect you. Let us now examine the guidelines.
Modifications to ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Programme (SEVP)
Guidelines on online classes: ICE said that foreign students enrolled in American universities offering only online classes, will not be granted student’s visas to return to the country. Now, this is tricky because even though such students are permitted by the U.S Customs and Border Protection to enter the country, they will not just be granted their student visas by American consulates anywhere in the world. The implication of this, therefore, is that no foreign student is allowed to be in the USA while undertaking online classes offered by an American university.
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Foreign students who wish to return/remain in the USA during the autumn semester must ensure that their classes will not be taught online. If it so happens that a foreign student is enrolled in a school offering only online classes, such a student has the option of transferring to another school that is conducting face-to-face lecturing. Otherwise, the student should stay back in their home country and take the full course online.
Foreign students who are already in the country but enrolled in schools offering only online courses must also ensure that either switch to a different school with the face-to-face lecture option, or leave the country willing. Otherwise, such foreign students risk being deported.
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“Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. 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. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” part of the guideline said.
Guidelines on regular classes: The revised guideline specified that foreign students enrolled in American schools where classes are still taught face-to-face are required to be available on campus to attend classes during the autumn semester. Upon return to campus, such students are allowed to decide whether to combine both physical class attendance and online classes.
Other guidelines: Foreign students attending US schools that are combining online classes with physical lectures will not be allowed to only attend online lectures while on campus. Instead, they must attend both the online classes and face-to-face classes.
Some issues to consider
-It is obvious that ICE is trying to stop some foreign students from trooping to the USA when they can remotely receive lectures online. After all, this will help prevent further trans-border spread of COVID-19. However, online classes come special challenges, especially for students in foreign countries. The time difference is one of such challenges; what happens when an online class is holding by 12 noon at Harvard when a student somewhere in South East Asia supposed to be sleeping?
-For now, American consulates around the world have suspended visa issuance. This poses a serious challenge to foreign students who were just freshly admitted into American universities and will student visas before they can be on campus for the autumn semester. Now, the saddest part is that any student who does not resume along with the other students, will not be allowed to resume later.
-Meanwhile, Nigerian students hoping to return to the US for their studies would have to grapple with immigration uncertainties mentioned above, along with foreign exchange troubles. Recall that even though the Central Bank of Nigeria announced that it has resumed the sale of dollars to Nigerian students studying abroad, the exchange rate for naira against the dollar remains high. And this is a major challenge to any student who will need to pay the high tuition fees of American universities.