With COVID-19 still spreading rapidly in the United States, many universities have decided to transition to online courses for the upcoming fall semester. This transition now poses an unexpected problem for international students following ICE's recent announcement that international students holding F-1 or M-1 visas will not be allowed to travel to or remain in the United States if their course load is entirely online. International students currently residing in the United States will be forced to leave the country or risk deportation.
For many of these students, leaving the country is not a viable option and would interrupt and possibly jeopardize their education. Being forced to move would inconvenience students returning to areas with different time zones, who may struggle to attend lectures or adhere to deadlines due to the time difference. Leaving the country would also distance these students from necessary resources offered by their universities, and this distance could also place students in an environment in which they cannot effectively continue their education. Students may not have a stable internet connection, for example, and some could be returning to unsafe conditions, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being forced to leave can also limit international students' opportunities, as many will be unable to apply for research or internships if they cannot remain in the United States. Students currently participating in research programs or receiving funding from their schools may also lose these opportunities if they are forced to relocate.
Mandating international students to leave the United States also poses a major issue for students who immigrated from countries that have now placed tight restrictions on travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because COVID-19 continues to be a prominent issue in the United States, many countries have restricted incoming travel from the United States. Students who lived in countries with these travel restrictions may have difficulty returning to their countries of origin as a result, and leaving the United States may be extremely difficult for them if they cannot find a place to go. Forcing students who have been living in the United States to leave can also pose a global health risk: a large amount of people leaving a country with a high volume of COVID-19 cases may contribute to the spread of the virus outside of the United States.
Although ICE provided transferring to a school that is offering in-person classes as an alternative option, transferring is also not viable for many students. Some international students may be relying on financial aid or scholarships offered by their specific schools and cannot afford to transfer. Others may be enrolled in certain programs or be participating in research, which will also be lost if they transfer, and students must also account for course credits that may not transfer to another school. Asking students to transfer is unfair and still disruptive to their education: students who transfer will have to readjust to a new environment, and some may need to retake certain requirements for their degrees and make major adjustments to their academic plans. Forcing these students to attend in-person classes can also put them at risk of being exposed to COVID-19, a risk that is minimized by remote learning.
International students should be allowed to remain in the United States, regardless of whether or not their courses are online. COVID-19 has brought about extraordinary and challenging circumstances that must be accounted for before decisions that could harm students' academic careers are made. International students have a right to stay in the United States, and being forced to leave could prove to be devastating for many of these students.