Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced that foreign students schooling in the United States may have to leave the country or get deported if universities transition to an online-only form of teaching.
ICE said this in a press statement on Monday while addressing forthcoming policies to be adopted for the September-December semester to curb COVID-19 spread.
The move may affect thousands of foreign students including Nigerians who move to the United States to attend universities or participate in training programs, as well as non-academic or vocational studies.
ICE added that;
The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which is operated by ICE, had initially introduced a temporary exemption to allow students whose courses moved online to remain in the US.
However, ICE in its statement said;
The exemption will not be extended into the new academic year. The decision affects students who are in the US on F-1 and M-1 visas.
This comes after Harvard University announced that all course instruction would be delivered online in the new academic year, including for the limited number of students allowed to live on campus.
Universities nationwide are beginning to make the decision to transition to online courses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Politicians and academics have however strongly criticised the decision to deport students.
The president of Harvard University, Larry Bacow, in a statement quoted by BBC 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.
He added that;
The decision 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.
A Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren described the move as ‘senseless, cruel, and xenophobic.’
Kicking international students out of the US during a global pandemic because their colleges are moving classes online for physical distancing hurts students.
The agency have suggested that students currently enrolled in the US should consider other measures, like transferring to schools with in-person instruction.
This may however be difficult to come by amid continued concerns over coronavirus.