ICE Announced that International Students Can Be Deported. What Does This Mean and Why Is It Happening?

Cassidy Chansirik
Yesterday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students enrolled in colleges that are offering online-only courses in the fall can be deported. 

Under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SVEP), ICE has created the following new temporary exemptions for international students attending American universities on an F-1 or M-1 student visa:
  • If a student on an F-1 or M-1 visa is attending a school that only offers online classes for the fall, that student cannot stay in the United States lawfully. In order to avoid removal proceedings, ICE recommends that these students either leave the country or transfer to a school that offers in-person classes. 
  • If a student on an F-1 or M-1 visa is attending a school that only offers online classes for the fall and currently resides outside of the country, that student will be denied entry into the United States by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • If a nonimmigrant student is planning to attend a school that only offers online classes for the fall, that student will not be issued an F-1 or M-1 visa by the U.S. Department of State
  • If a student on an F-1 or M-1 visa is attending a school that will operate normally and offer in-person classes during the fall, that student can only take a maximum of one online class or three online credit hours. 
  • If a student on an F-1 or M-1 visa is attending a school that will offer a hybrid model of online and in-person classes, the school must certify that the classes are hybrid and that the student is not taking only online classes. 
How many students are affected?

According to the Migrant Policy Institute, this new policy will affect approximately 1.2 million students who are enrolled in more than 8,700 schools. As of March 2018, students on F-1 and M-1 visas contributed $45 billion to the United States economy. 

What does this mean for universities?

Prior to this policy, universities were already expecting a decrease in fall enrollment from international students due to the pandemic. In April, the American Council on Education predicted that international enrollment would decrease by 25%

But now, with removal proceedings looming, universities may have to brace an even steeper drop in enrollment and revenue lost from international student tuition. 

It’s unclear how universities like Harvard and Yale, which have already announced that fall semester will be fully online, will adapt to this new immigration policy. 

It's also unclear how the government will react to schools planning a "hybrid" model of education. That means some classes will be online, and some will be in person. 

What does this mean for international students?

For international students currently residing in the United States but are attending schools that will only offer online classes for the fall, travel restrictions only make things harder. 

Theresa Cardinal Brown, Director of Immigration and Cross-Border Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center states that “some countries have travel restrictions against the United States, which means students can’t go home.” 

If students can’t go home, but are not allowed to stay in the United States lawfully for school, the big question is: where will they go? This has yet to be answered by ICE. 

Why is this happening?

There are a number of reasons why this immigration policy may now be in place. 

Senior Vice President of the American Council on Education Terry Hartle said, “‘ICE is clearly creating an incentive for institutions to reopen, regardless of whether or not the circumstances of the pandemic warrant it.’” 

President Donald Trump tweeted that schools and universities must reopen this fall. 

Other experts believe that this policy is in place so that the Trump administration can expand legal immigration bans to China, which makes up 32.5% of the nation’s international student population

Just this May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that there were plans to limit visas issued to Chinese graduate students and researchers over national security concerns

Although ICE has not formally released a statement on why this policy is currently being implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is certain that many students will have to change their plans for fall once more. 

If you are a student who is affected by this policy, it’s important to stay up-to-date on your school’s fall reopening plans. The Chronicle of Education has compiled a list of university reopening plans here. For more detailed information, be sure to contact your school’s administrators. 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

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