Earlier this month, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security announced new guidelines that would strip visas from international students who don’t take in-person classes, and are fully enrolled online. The controversial move was designed to put pressure on universities to offer in-person courses instead of keeping everything online. On July 14, the rule was rescinded after lawsuits brought by several universities and colleges, including Harvard and MIT. Now ICE has changed course once again, and issued an important clarification.
On Friday, ICE confirmed that it will only allow international students taking online classes to enter the country if they were already actively enrolled in school by March 9.
According to the agency, “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 new ICE directive told school officials not to issue a Form I-20 to international students in new or initial stages who are currently outside the US and only plan to take fully online classes. International students cannot apply for a student visa, enter the country as a student, or be eligible for benefits without a Form I-20.
Earlier this month, Harvard and MIT sued claiming the ICE’s new rule was designed to “force universities to reopen in-person classes,” increasing the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
In an email to students this week that the school is working with state officials to find flexibility for the new students, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana said, “We abhor any policies that seek to force us to choose between our community’s health and the education of our international students.”
A version of this article was previously published on July 14, 2020, and was updated on July, 27, 2020, with more information.