One of the biggest unknowns to arise from the COVID-19 pandemic is whether or not students of all ages will be able to return to classrooms come the new academic year. Foreign students hoping to pursue their degrees at U.S. colleges and universities have had some of their questions answered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today. The guidance issued by ICE varies depending on whether the school is offering courses online, in person, or in some hybrid of the two. And it gets more complicated from there.
For example, if a school is offering classes online only, ICE will allow non-U.S. students to take a full course load, but they have to stay in their home country to do so.
If they’re already in the U.S., they must either transfer to a different school that offers in-person classes, or they have to leave and go back home to take their classes.
ICE says that students who are attending schools that offer a mix of online and in-person classes “will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online,” but it’s up to the school how they will offer those classes given that some foreign students will be hours ahead of U.S. time zones depending on their location.
And if that isn’t challenging enough, thanks to the pandemic, U.S. consulates have hit pause on processing routine visas (such as the ones students need to get into the country—even if they were already accepted into an academic program here). A Wall Street Journal report points out, “Typically, a student can’t enter the U.S. on a valid visa after their program’s start date.”