Homeland Security announcing visa curbs on international students currently in and those wanting to join in fall for courses that are currently being held only online came in for criticism from universities and immigration experts.
Harvard University was blunt about it.
In a statement posted online, Harvard said: “We are deeply concerned that the guidance issued today by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposes a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem, giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools.”
“This guidance undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programs while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic.”
“We will work closely with other colleges and universities around the country to chart a path forward. We must do all that we can to ensure that our students can continue their studies without fear of being forced to leave the country mid-way through the year, disrupting their academic progress and undermining the commitments—and sacrifices—that many of them have made to advance their education.”
Chicago-based immigration lawyer Tejas Shah told indica News that international students enrolled at educational institutions in the US should reach out to their universities for more guidance on their plans for resuming classes in the fall semester to determine their options.
He said that the new policy would bar any F-1 enrollment at universities that are forced to conduct all classes exclusively online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Universities conducting courses in a traditional classroom format or using a “hybrid model” remain eligible to sponsor F-1s.
The new policy, Shah said, represents “another step in this administration’s assault on immigration to the United States”.
“Universities are being placed in a difficult situation wherein they have to choose between public health considerations and retaining their international students,” he said.
The consequences of the action, said Shah, executive member at South Asian Bar Association of North America and immigration lawyer at Partner, Barnes & Thornburg LLP in Chicago, would be borne by students.
If someones’ visa has expired and if they are not able to get it renewed in time they would have difficulty to come to the US, for example.
“If they lose visa status, there is a lot of things that can happen. Unfortunately, they have to take time to figure out what is going at their university, and what their options are going to be,” Shah said.
“University and colleges that have announced to offer only online classes have to give it a second thought, he said.
“I think there are a lot of unknowns. We can’t make a firm prediction; this news is completely new and its possible and Harvard and University of California systems could make policy adjustments and allow international students to take one physical class one semester,” he said.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the University of Southern California announced last week that undergraduate students will take all or most of their courses online, reversing course from earlier plans to invite undergraduates back to campus for an in-person fall semester.
In announcing the decision, USC administrators cited “an alarming spike in coronavirus cases [in Los Angeles], making it clear we need to dramatically reduce our on-campus density”.
USC senior administrators said in a message last updated July 2 that their plans for returning to full campus operations had not yet been approved by Los Angeles County officials.