International students taking only online courses may be forced to leave the US

July 7, 2020, 9:35 p.m.

International students will not be permitted to take a completely online course load and remain in the U.S. for the fall 2020 semester due to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regulations released Monday. Stanford’s 2020-21 academic policy requires each undergraduate class year to take at least one quarter fully online, potentially forcing international students to leave the country.

Typically, nonimmigrant students are not allowed to take more than one online class per semester, but for this past spring, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made temporary exceptions. Some have called to extend these exceptions to fall 2020 as well, but the ICE guidelines released Monday stated that nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visa students attending schools operating entirely online for the fall semester “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.”

Those who do not comply with this ruling could suffer consequences of deportation.

The announcement breaks down universities into three categories: those offering online-only instruction, those offering on-campus instruction and hybrid institutions. 

Students attending online-only schools will not be issued visas and will be barred from entering the U.S. Eligible students at schools operating under in-person instruction can take “a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.” 

Students at hybrid schools will be allowed to take more than one online class but must take at least one in-person class, with a course load totaling at least “the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.” 

Schools will have to notify the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) within 10 days if they are forced to switch to online-only learning in the middle of the semester. 

These new rules are currently applicable only to the fall 2020 semester, and it is currently unclear whether international students who take in-person classes in the fall — but intend on taking an online-only course load for the winter or spring — will lose their nonimmigrant status and be forced out of the country. The Daily has reached out to the University. 

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s statement on Monday noted that University leadership was still working on gathering more information. Tessier-Lavigne assured students of the University’s commitment to aiding international students during this time, but concrete steps have yet to be announced.

“Our international students must be able to continue making progress toward completing their degrees, and as a university we intend to support them in doing so,” Tessier-Lavigne wrote. “We will be working with our peers and national associations to understand how best to accomplish that in the context of these new rules, as well as urge the Administration to rethink its position.”

Students began circulating a petition almost immediately following the news, demanding that University leadership guarantee every international student the ability to take in-person classes for three quarters. The petition has gathered more than 3,000 signatures.

“Simply put, ICE’s harsh and uncalled-for policies are an attack on our community’s accomplished international scholars,” reads the petition. “It also harms the whole Stanford community that gains so much from them.”

If Stanford switches to an online-only format, the petition calls on the University to guarantee international students an in-person course load sufficient for visa eligibility. It also calls on the University to work with SEVP and ICE so that students who cannot return to campus retain their visa status once they can return. 

“As international students and domestic peers, we applaud the measures Stanford has already taken to help the international community in the face of the COVID-19 crisis and the US government’s xenophobic response,” the petition reads. “We appreciate the care the administration has demonstrated for international students with these actions, and urge that they respond to this latest governmental affront with the same level of care for our international scholars.”

The document has garnered the support of members from the ASSU Undergraduate Senate, who voted in support of a resolution endorsing the petition and “unequivocally stat[ing] that international students are our friends, peers, and valued members of our community.”

International students throughout the U.S. have struggled with a variety of hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of the country’s borders closing and strict travel precautions

“Our focus and efforts right now are on analyzing the DHS guidance to provide Stanford students accurate and timely information,” Shalini Bhutani, executive director of the Bechtel International Center, wrote to international students on Monday. “Please know that the Stanford community is committed to supporting international students.”

Contact Gabriela Calvillo at gabrielacalvillo1019 ‘at’

Gabriela Calvillo is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.

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