International students who are pursuing degrees in the United States will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only courses, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Monday night.
The move will affect thousands of foreign students including Nigerians who travelled to the United States to attend universities or participate in training programmes, as well as non-academic or vocational studies.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Cultural Affairs Officer of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, Malia Heroux, said one-third of African students studying in the U.S. are Nigerians.
She said about 13,000 Nigerians and 39,000 Africans go to study in the USA yearly.
Universities worldwide are beginning to make the decision to transition to online courses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. For example, at Harvard, all course instruction will be delivered online, including for students living on campus.
According to CNN, the ICE, in a news release, said that students who fall under certain visas “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.”
Students on F-1 and M-1 visas who face such a situation “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status,” the ICE said in the news release.
The statement also said 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.
The agency suggested that students currently enrolled in the U.S. consider other measures, like transferring to schools with in-person instruction. There’s an exception for universities using a hybrid model, such as a mix of online and in-person classes.
The vice president of the American Council on Education, Brad Farnsworth, said the announcement caught him and many others by surprise.
“We think this is going to create more confusion and more uncertainty,” said Mr Farnsworth, whose organisation represents about 1,800 colleges and universities. “What we were hoping to see was more appreciation for all the different possible nuances that campuses will be exploring,” CNN quoted him as saying.
Mr Farnsworth said one concern with the new guidance, is what would happen if the public health situation deteriorates in the fall and universities that had been offering in-person classes feel they have to shift all courses online to stay safe.
The director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Theresa Cardinal Brown, said visa requirements for students have always been strict and coming to the U.S. to take online-only courses has been prohibited.
“These are not some fly-by-night universities, these aren’t scams, these are legit universities who would normally have in-person curricula but for coronavirus,” she said.
“The bigger issue is some of these countries have travel restrictions on and they can’t go home, so what do they do then?” she said.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, DC, about 1.2 million students who fall under the affected visas were enrolled and registered at more than 8,700 schools nationwide as of March 2018.
Last month, the White House issued an immigration proclamation dramatically curtailing legal immigration to the US sending hundreds of people and businesses into a scramble to understand whether their future plans are derailed.