On the subject of SEVP's statement on nonimmigrant students taking online courses in Fall 2020 semester: Is it a fair decision?
By Kevin Dinh
Recently, the ICE has released a new statement detailing the eligibility of nonimmigrant students' stay in the United States based on online classes. This statement has caused a massive outburst of controversy regarding its seemingly dubious moral nature.
The controversial statement entails sudden changes in the state of nonimmigrant students' visas. Students with F-1 and M-1 whose schools only offer online courses are faced with the most substantial consequence as their status as students no longer become effective. The statement only provides the students with two alternatives: to either change schools or return to their home country. If students do not comply with the report, they will have to face deportation. The only way for nonimmigrant students to remain in the same school is if the individual schools offer either in-person or hybrid (a mixture of in-person and online) classes. Any other alternative and students will be forced to vacate either from the school or the country. This statement essentially puts a little over 1 million international students at risk of deportation and a myriad of health risks during said processes.
Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States
The outrage behind the nature of the statement makes complete sense as many students' education, as well as their status as nonimmigrant students, are suddenly in jeopardy out of the blue, rendering students under the complete mercy of their schools. What makes the statement seems worse in its moral nature is its timing. The COVID-19 pandemic is still roaming free in the United States. Many states are still going under a massive quarantine period, putting not only the students' status at risk but also their health as they would have to face many dangers upon returning to their home country. All aspects make for a compelling argument that ICE is deliberately putting students' futures and lives at risk, hence the outrage. Not only students but also parents, and multiple schools and universities, are entirely opposed to ICE's statement, including our own. Nicki Dabney - North Cross' Director of International Operations - in a recent email sent to the international body expressed great disappointment in reply to the new Visa Regulations, but she also reassured the students about their status as students of North Cross.
Although I am very disheartened that the U.S. government is implementing this policy, please know that this does not affect your status as a student at North Cross School.
The ICE's statement is even more questionable because it seems to mandate students to resume in-person classes. It seems almost comical and equally concerning that they also mandate such things regarding the pandemic, which is only getting worse day by day. They mandate the students to go to classes in person and potentially exposing them to the virus, which would cause even more cases even with necessary precautions. Some of the reasons for this decision might be that a typical studying environment is better than online learning settings and that it would be easier to monitor the student body's health via constant testing and precautions like masks and hand sanitizer. But the effectiveness of a typical environment compared to distance learning is already dubious. It is up to the individual students to determine which style of learning fits them more, whether they like it or not. The in-person learning model in the middle of a pandemic seems like a waste of resources because the effectiveness between distance learning and traditional school settings can hardly be compared.
There has been a lack of clarity from the ICE regarding their decisions, but it seems that their reason traces back long before COVID-19, and quarantine became an issue. In an article written in 2012, the ICE has stated that F-1 students "may only count one online or distance education course without the physical oversight of a school employee (or the equivalent of three credits) toward a full course of study per academic term. But this would make even less sense because the world is experiencing a pandemic that forced many people to stay home. If this is the ground that the ICE is basing on to determine a student's eligibility, does that not make them appear ruthless and unsympathetic for the students' situation? It would make the ICE even more unreasonable for sandwiching even more problems on the students' back, of which they have already dealt more than enough with due to the pandemic.
As a part of this international student community, I feel grateful for my school for offering online courses for those already in their home countries and an in-person model cope with this new change, but I also feel a great disdain behind the decision behind ICE's latest statement. I am also glad that so many people are standing up to fight against an unfair change that essentially throws house-sized wrenches in multiple students' future and career prospects. Hopefully, some form of changes can be made against the injustices that this statement had wrought upon many students.