leave or face consequences: exchange students are faced with an impossible decision in the USA



Six months in and 2020 is still terrorizing everyone, everywhere. In case facing the lockdown while living away from home isn’t hard enough, The Immigration and Customs Enforcement has now issued new rules that are going to make the exchange students’ life a lot worse. Thus, young adults are currently torn between two hard choices: leave during a global health crisis and risk infection or stay and face “consequences”.

Issuing new rules

On Monday, The Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch of the Department of Homeland Security decided to issue a new set of rules. The most important one is that The “Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States”. 

Therefore, students who are already staying in the US and enrolled in online courses must either depart the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. Either way, the students will risk the possibility of infection with the coronavirus.

Furthermore, students in schools with hybrid online/in-person courses must certify that their programs are not entirely online. They will also be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.

Moreover, if the students fail to comply with these rules, they will face immigration consequences. Such consequences include, though are not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.

These rules will cause uncertainty and anxiety for almost 1.55 million active non-immigrant students. In addition, almost 85,000 of these students are in grade school. This means that these new rules will affect and burden minors and kids. 


On Monday, President Donald Trump stated that schools must open in the fall despite the current health crisis. However, he doesn’t have much power concerning this issue. For a while now, educators have struggled with decisions about opening schools out of fear of spreading infection. In the USA, schools are largely under the jurisdiction of state and local governments. Thus, they will be the ones to decide when it is safe to reopen schools.

On the other hand, President Trump wasn’t clear on which schools he meant. He could either mean elementary and high schools or colleges and universities or both. Moreover, he didn’t specify any course of action.

Private schools and universities are still weighing their options as the country witnesses another renewed surge in the positive coronavirus numbers in the US.

Furthermore, university officials will allow only 40 percent of undergraduates to live on campus. In most cases, all freshmen will be invited while the universities will also take into consideration students who face challenges learning from afar. 

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Online courses

Despite the ongoing debate on whether to reopen schools or not, most agree that offering online courses is the best plan of action right now and during the upcoming fall. Even students who live in dorm rooms will take their classes remotely and online.

Moreover, Advocates and immigration experts quickly denounced the new rules. Since ICE has already made an extemp that allows transfer students to take online courses in the spring, there is no reason they can’t do the same now. Most of them condemn the plan as short-sighted and cruel. 

On the other hand, ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell has defended their decision stating that “as many institutions across the country reopen, there is a need to resume the carefully balanced protections implemented by federal regulations.”

In brief, exchange students who entered the country for the sake of better education and opportunities are now facing a new level of uncertainty and fear. ICE’s new rules don’t serve the public interest or national interest. Moreover, they are putting the lives of minors at risk.


Al Jazeera. (2020, July 6). The US says international students must leave if classes are online. Coronavirus Pandemic News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/online-exchange-students-leave-face-consequences-ice-200706200025059.html

Bernal, R. (2020, July 6). ICE tells students on visas they must leave the US if schools go online only. TheHill. https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/506072-ice-tells-students-on-visas-they-must-leave-us-if-schools-go-online

ICE tells F1 Students to Leave US (If School is Online-only). (2020, July 7). AM22Tech. https://www.am22tech.com/usa/news/f1-m1-students-leave-us-online-classes/

MONTOYA-GALVEZ. (2020). https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ice-foreign-students-online-only-classes/. CBS NEWS. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ice-foreign-students-online-only-classes/ 


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