The Trump administration's decision on barring foreign students from attending online-only classes "will encourage schools to reopen" while maintaining "protections for fraud" that are necessary in international visa programmes, a Homeland Security official has said.
In a decision that will adversely impact hundreds of thousands of foreign students in the US, including from India, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said this week that international students at universities that will offer online-only classes in the fall due to the COVID19 pandemic cannot remain in the US and will face deportation if they don't transfer to a school with in-person instructions.
The US Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programmes that are fully online for the falling semester, nor will US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the US, the ICE release said.
Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli, in an interview to CNN, said, "The current rules, regulations that govern foreign students allow at most one online class and so we're expanding the flexibility massively to a level never done before so that schools can use hybrid models and can design reopening."
"Anything short of 100 per cent online is the direction that we're headed. We've got to finish the temporary regulation, but this is more flexibility that we're looking at than has ever been provided before," he said.
Cuccinelli said that "this is now setting the rules for one semester, which we'll finalise later this month, that will again encourage schools to reopen, recognising some of them are moving their start dates up, some of them are going to hybrid models, some online some in-person. And we're trying to accommodate as many of those as we can while maintaining the protections for fraud and so forth that are necessary in any sort of international visa program."
He added that students can take the 100 per cent online classes from home as happened in the last semester around March-April when the COVID pandemic really hit.
At that time, ICE "provided massive flexibility at that stage on a level of prosecutorial discretion to allow for that sudden change in the middle of a semester."
When asked that the agencies are basically forcing universities to reopen, even if they have personally determined that they shouldn't be doing that for public health reasons, he said, "We're not forcing universities to reopen. However, if they don't reopen this semester, there isn't a reason for a person holding a student visa to be present in the country.
"They should go home and then they can return when the school opens. That's what student visas are for and we want to accommodate that for schools and we're working hard to do that."
Several Congressmen and top American educational institutions decried the Trump administration's policy change that will require international students in the US with an F-1 visa to take at least one in-person course or else face the prospect of deportation.
The new guidelines have created panic among international students, a majority of whom come from China and India.
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sued the Department of Homeland Security and the ICE in the issue.