July 24, 2020
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued new guidance today saying new international students — unlike current international students — will not be able to travel to the U.S. to take an entirely online course of study.
The guidance states that students will not be penalized, however, if their institutions switch from in-person or hybrid to online mode midterm due to the pandemic.
“Nonimmigrant students pursuing studies in the United States for the fall 2020 school term may remain in the United States even if their educational institution switches to a hybrid program or to fully online instruction,” an FAQ from ICE says. “The students will maintain their nonimmigrant status in this scenario and would not be subject to initiation of removal proceedings based on their online studies.”
More than 20 universities and 20 states filed various lawsuits to block an ICE directive that would have prohibited current international students from taking all their courses online. While the government agreed to rescind that directive in response to litigation, the rescission left the fate of new international students unclear. Higher education groups have advocated for the ability for new international students to get visas to come to the U.S. to start their college programs regardless of whether their institutions plan on an in-person, hybrid or online-only modality for fall.