New regulations for international students taking online classes were announced by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday.
International students at universities that only offer online classes must leave the U.S. or risk deportation. Those entering the country will be denied entry.
If a university adopts a hybrid model for the fall, students will only be allowed to enter and stay in the U.S. if they do not have a fully online course load. If the student switches to an online-only course load during the semester, they must also leave the country.
International students typically cannot take more than one online course per term to count towards the credit requirement. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, these restrictions were eased for the spring and summer semesters. However, the same flexibility is not being extended to the upcoming fall semester.
If Hopkins retains its current reopening plan, it is unlikely that international students will be allowed to return on campus in the fall, given that the University plans to transition into fully online instruction following Thanksgiving break.
Students’ records in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System will also be terminated, meaning that they will lose their foreign students’ visa, known as the F-1 visa.
University President Ronald J. Daniels noted his concern in a press release on how the rule would affect international students at Hopkins.
“This guidance dismisses the seriousness of the public health crisis in the United States and ignores the current restrictions on global travel due to consulate closures and other pandemic-related public health concerns,” Daniels wrote. “International students are now faced with an impossible situation that causes undue stress and undermines their educational aims.”
The press release also slammed the rule, describing the federal government’s efforts as “draconian” and noting the permanent adverse impact it could have for international students. It is unclear, however, if the University will be taking any steps at this time to modify academic plans for the fall.
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit Wednesday morning seeking a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction relief to prevent the implementation of the regulations.
In an email to The News-Letter, Divisha Jaiswal, a rising junior from India, expressed frustration with the new policy.
“ICE is literally asking us to choose between potential death and risking status termination,” she wrote.
Rising junior Bea Tran, a student from Vietnam, similarly noted how this new policy puts international students in a stressful and unpredictable position.
“I struggle to put my feelings into words.” Tran wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Forcing students out is not viable as many cannot return due to closed borders and limited flights, and forcing people to come back means exposing them to disease, which of course is extra distressing for high-risk individuals.”
Tran added that while she had planned to return to campus, the new rules are making her reconsider. She also stated that it was difficult to see the rationale behind the policy and expressed her hope that there will be pushback from the Hopkins community.
“It just doesn’t make any sense; the only explanation is that this policy is used to pressure schools into fully reopening,” she wrote. "I hope to see the [University] administration push against this rule. Also, I would love to see fellow domestic students rally behind us. Please consider signing petitions, spreading awareness, and speaking out.”
Yoko Yamashita, a rising junior from Japan, expressed her concern about what would happen if the University abruptly transitions into fully online instruction during the fall semester.
“What if the pandemic gets worse when we have to leave? What if there aren’t any flights at that time?” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I’m just really anxious about what is going to happen if I go back, but at the same time, it seems like there’s no choice but to do so.”
Lily Daniels, a rising senior from Canada, stated that having to leave Baltimore would disrupt her both her extracurricular engagements and post-graduation plans.
“In addition to having classes at Homewood, I also work at a lab on the med campus and at a mental health clinic,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “If I am sent home I will have to give up these positions. I relied on having these positions in order to help strengthen my graduate school applications as well as offer me exposure to the field that I am interested in.”
Daniels added that actions Hopkins can take are limited. However, she expressed hope that if international students are able to return, the University would provide additional accommodations.
“The only thing I can think of is perhaps ensuring that international students are able to be enrolled in at least one in-person class,“ she wrote. “This may mean bumping them up spots on a waitlist or even removing some American students from courses which they could take another year in order to make room for those who are international.”
Tran stated that the University faces a difficult decision as it reviews its reopening plan and needs to consider unique situations different students are in.
“[The Office of International Services] has to gather input and decide what’s best based on student demographics,” she wrote.
A group of Chinese international students are working with the University administration to create exchange programs with Chinese universities for the fall semester, advocating for a program similar to the Go Local option at the New York University.
Rising sophomore Peter Huang explained that the group is scheduled to meet with the administration at the end of this week to discuss the option.
“I would like to see all international students get involved in the discussion to come up with a plan and make the school give a more responsible response — maybe push the school to implement ‘Go Local’ programs in China, South Korea, India, and other countries,” he said.
Huang added that the response from the University has been inadequate.
“Most of us worked our butts off to get into these institutions. We would really hate to see one policy destroy everything we worked for the past couple years of our lives,” he said. “We want to see Hopkins put more effort than issue a disclaimer about how they don’t appreciate a policy to actually do something that could protect our F-1 status.”
The announcement has triggered waves of negative responses online. A We the People petition on the White House website to reverse the decision has also been launched and has gathered over the requisite 100,000 signatures to get a response from the administration.
At Hopkins, a petition to create a single credit course for international students that would hold in-person classes for the entire duration of the semester is circulating.
As of March, the State Department has suspended all routine visa services in U.S. embassies and consulates. Previously scheduled visa appointments have been cancelled, and now many incoming international students are facing difficulty obtaining their visas.
In an email to The News-Letter, Zoe Zhou, an incoming freshman at the Peabody Institute from China, stated that she will remotely learn from her home in the fall semester due to visa restrictions and inability to schedule a visa appointment.
“The expected online course at Peabody may exceed the limitation [on online courses]. Our I-20 was canceled for this reason,” she wrote. “I [scheduled] the visa appointment on July 13 originally, but it was canceled because the Embassy is still closed.”
Incoming Brazilian student Lucas Guerra stated that he will also be learning online at home, at least for the fall semester.
“I just gave up on going,” he wrote. “Last week, they cancelled all visa interviews in Brazil, and they will be available starting in September. I really don't have any options to go until September. While JHU said we can go mid-semester, I still am not sure if the U.S. is even going to be open for Brazil.”
Guerra added that he was not too anxious about having his first semester at Hopkins be online, although it has made scheduling his course load difficult.
“Some classes I need to take are classified as on-campus only, and they haven’t made sure that labs are going to be made available online,“ he wrote. “There always are other ways to fill those requirements.”
Other students are considering different options for the next academic year. In an interview with The News-Letter, Thành Đoàn, an admitted student from Vietnam, said that he will be taking a gap year.
“Quarantine has nudged me to reconsider my path,” he said. “The prospect of online classes, not being able to travel, a second wave of COVID-19 and seeing international students struggling to get a flight back home helped me realize that maybe there's also another path for me to consider.”
Incoming Canadian student Aiman Altaf stated that Hopkins and the Office of International Services (OIS) were responsive to her concerns.
“Hopkins was very consistent with communicating what was happening with COVID-19 and fall plans. There were multiple town halls and livestreams, and the website's FAQ page was also very helpful,” she wrote. “When they were still deciding what would happen in the fall, they sent an overabundance of emails that all seemed to say the same thing without any definitive plans, so that seemed kind of unnecessary.”
International students from Canada do not need to obtain a visa to study in the U.S. and only need an I-20 form, which verifies their enrollment at a university or other academic programs.
Altaf noted that she planned on attending in-person classes at Hopkins and stated her support for the University’s reopening plan.
“I think half the value in a college education is the experience you have on campus, where you meet other people and join clubs and find your place in the community,” she wrote. “If they had decided to go fully virtual I would most likely have deferred my admission to 2021 just because both the form of education and the cost of it wouldn't be worth it for me.”
OIS did not respond to requests for comment by press time.