US Says Newly Enrolled Foreign Students Will Be Barred Entry If Their Courses Are Online Only

Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) campus (Aleksandr Zykov/Flickr)

About two weeks ago, it appeared as though the Trump administration had abandoned its widely condemned plan to withdraw visas of international students whose courses have moved fully online. But new guidelines released on Friday, July 24, dictate that newly enrolled foreign students in distance learning programs will still be barred from entering the country.

According to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) latest guidelines, nonimmigrant international students who were not already enrolled in academic programs as of March 9 will not be granted visas to the country if the courses they intended to take have entirely transitioned to remote learning.

“Nonimmigrant students in new or initial status after March 9 will not be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online,” the guidelines read.

ICE instructed schools to not issue a Form I-20 (a form necessary for obtaining a student visa and entering the country) to an international student “in new or initial status who is outside of the US and plans to take classes fully online.”

In its previous guidelines on July 6, ICE threatened to revoke visas for foreign students whose program had shifted to full or partial online studies. But after facing a threat of a lawsuit filed by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and fierce backlash from dozens of other American colleges and universities, the plan was rolled back. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) subsequently promised to follow with amended regulations, which it released on Friday.

In an updated FAQ document, ICE clarified that newly enrolled international students who are already in the US would be allowed to remain in the country. It also proposes deferred enrollment as an alternative for new students whose schools were are not able to maintain standard operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.