ICE Guidance Bars New International Students From Coming to the U.S.
July 27, 2020

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on Friday that international students who plan to enroll at a college or university that has adopted an all-online instruction plan for the fall will be barred from entering the country. The announcement came as a number of institutions are shifting to all-online learning for the fall semester.

International students who “were actively enrolled” at a U.S. institution on March 9 will not be affected by the new guidance whether or not that institution has moved to an all online platform for fall 2020, ICE said.

Brad Farnsworth, ACE’s vice president for global engagement, told Inside Higher Ed that “while the association is ‘disappointed that there’s inconsistency between the treatment for existing students who are in the United States who will be allowed to enroll in fully online institutions and the treatment of new students,’ it's nonetheless pleased to see the flexibility for hybrid learning options.”

The controversy began earlier this month, when ICE unveiled guidance that prohibited international students from returning to or remaining in the United States if the colleges and universities went all-online this fall. After Harvard University and MIT filed a lawsuit challenging the July 6 directive—which would have put hundreds of thousands of students already in the United States at risk of having their F-1 visas revoked—the Trump administration rescinded it on July 14.

Embassies and consulates around the world subsequently began responding to visa applications inconsistently, and some institutions were telling new students they could not come until there is clear guidance from the administration. Along with the lack of clear guidance, the biggest problem seems to be that embassies and consulates, operated by the U.S. Department of State, have been closed for a long time and are just now starting to reopen. They did not have a clear understanding of the ICE/ Department of Homeland Security rules either.

Along with 45 other higher education associations, ACE sent a letter last week to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf asking for clarification on how to proceed and for assurances that all students with a valid visa will be allowed to enter the country in time for the fall semester.

However, as Farnsworth said, the July 25 communication doesn’t resolve everything. “We still have questions, and we’re keeping our options open as to how to respond.”

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