Nonimmigrant students attending a college in the U.S. will not be allowed to remain in the country if all of their classes are online for the fall 2020 semester, according to new regulations released Monday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, or SEVP, announced these temporary exemptions that leave international students deciding whether to stay and take classes during the pandemic, or return home and take online classes.
These decisions leave little options to students attending schools that have already announced their plans for the fall semester, such as Michigan State.
In May, MSU announced their plan to open campus in the fall, however 75% of classes will be at least partially online.
Under the regulations, students can fall under one of three categories; if their school will be entirely online they must return home, if their school is in person they can remain in the country following normal regulations, and those whose school will have hybrid options, like MSU, fall more in between.
Normal regulations only allow international students to take one online course a semester. The new regulations allow those with hybrid options at their school to take more; however, if all of their classes are online they must leave the country.
"Nonimmigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes. If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave," the release from the SEVP said.
For some international students at MSU, their classes' formats have already been decided, leaving some students with all online classes and minimal options.
"The problem also comes in when, say for example you've completed all your university requirements and all you're left with as a senior is to complete your major's requirements and all your major's requirements are placed online, what are you supposed to do?" Associated Students of Michigan State University president and international student Abii-Tah Bih said.
Along with other international students, Bih has been trying to brainstorm ideas for students stuck in this position, such as herself.
"I still have to find a way to pick an in-person class that would allow me to meet that requirement to be here in the country, otherwise I might actually be kicked out, and I do not want to be running a student government from home. So, that's where most people are at now — just uncertainty and a whole lot of distress," Bih said.
According to the Office of International Students and Scholars 2018 report, MSU enrolled 6,260 international students during the 2018 fall semester.
Bih said the obvious solution would be to find a way for more classes to be held in-person. However, a professor cannot be forced to teach an in-person class if they feel uncomfortable doing so.
Another solution would be for classes mostly online to be labeled hybrid with only a short weekly or bi-weekly, in-person meeting time. She also suggested a similar idea, with teaching assistants who might be more willing to meet with students in person.
"For me, it's just my hope that the university is able to come up with something," Bih said. "Right now I'm trying to brainstorm as much as I can with my team to see what would be feasible."
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