ICE rescinds July update for international student visa guidelines during federal lawsuit

Areeba Amer and Andrew Zhang

Update 7/14

The federal government has decided to allow international students to take all classes online and remain in the United States, rescinding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidance released July 6 that would require students to take at least one in-person class to maintain their visa status, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs announced Tuesday.

Burroughs said ICE agreed to the decision at the beginning of the court hearing for a lawsuit Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Boston challenging the guidelines, according to the Associated Press. Harvard and MIT argued ICE violated procedural rules by releasing the guidelines without justification. According to the lawsuit, the July guidelines contradicted ICE’s original exemption from March that would be in effect “for the duration of the emergency.” More than 200 schools across the country signed court briefs in support of Harvard and MIT, according to the Associated Press. 

ICE’s July 6 guidelines updated a previous exemption from March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed international students to take all classes online. The July 6 update required international students to take at least one in-person class or lose their visa and leave the country. ICE will now “return to the status quo,” according to AP, and revert back to the March exemption, allowing international students to take all classes online without fear of losing their visas or facing deportation.

University spokesperson Joey Williams said in an email that international students can now register for all online classes and maintain their immigration status within the U.S. 

“International students play an integral role in our community and UT Austin will continue to do everything possible to support their success,” Williams said.

Williams said the University will still move additional fall classes to hybrid format, and an extended registration period will still be available July 23-31. These changes were announced by Daniel Jaffe, interim executive vice president and provost, in a campuswide email Sunday.

Incoming international students can still submit an appeal to defer their admission in light of embassy closures and other problems. Around 20 students have filed appeals, and students should hear a decision on their appeal by early August, said Kathleen Harrison, communications manager for the Office of Executive Vice President and Provost. 

Psychology junior Ziqing Yu said the release of the July 6 guidance and its rescission less than two weeks later caused confusion for vulnerable international students. 

“I changed my schedule once they announced the policy for the first time,” Yu said. “I was forced into (taking an) in-person class when I don’t really feel safe doing so. … It really isn’t helping, (the government) creating so much uncertainty during the chaos.” 

The July 6 guidance sparked backlash from the University community. A statement issued by UT Student Government, UT Senate of College Councils, the Graduate Student Assembly and Planet Longhorn said the new rules were “arbitrary regulations that will be detrimental to the health, well-being, safety and academic success of international students.”

Milia Daher, human dimensions of organization senior, said she was thankful that other universities decided to pursue litigation against the ICE guidance. She said it was relieving to hear the July 6 guidance was rescinded.

“(Today) all of us can finally relax knowing we can stay here regardless of the classes we’re taking,” Daher said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from affected students and the University.


Original story

Temporary exemptions to immigration regulations for international students on F-1 visas in the United States have been changed for the fall semester in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday in a news release

At schools teaching classes through a hybrid model, where classes are offered online and in person, international students in the U.S. will be allowed to take more than one class online as long as the school submits verification to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which ICE oversees, according to the release. International students in the U.S. taking all their classes online cannot stay in the country or maintain their F-1 visas, the release said. 

Federal immigration regulations usually dictate international students take a full course load with only one class online to maintain their visas.

UT will be operating as a hybrid model in the fall with online, hybrid and in-person classes, said Daniel Jaffe, interim executive vice president and provost, in a campus wide email sent Tuesday. There are over 5,600 international students at the University, according to a statement from Texas Global.

“Although the full impact of this directive on our students remains unclear, our students should know that we will do everything possible to ensure you receive the support you need to remain on track with your education and research,” Jaffe said. 

International students on F-1 visas who are in the U.S. or plan to return to campus will need to enroll in at least one in-person class, hybrid class or web-enhanced course to maintain their F-1 status, according to the Texas Global website

International students on F-1 visas who are currently out of the country and unable to return to the U.S. may enroll in all online classes at the University, but they will not be able to maintain their F-1 status, according to the Texas Global website

The University will have to submit a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” to the exchange program to confirm the school’s coursework is not online only, the international students’ classes are not entirely online and students are taking the minimum number of online classes required for their degree, according to the release.

If the University switches to entirely online classes at some point in the fall semester, it will be required to notify the exchange program of the change within 10 days, according to the ICE release. Students will have to leave the country or make special arrangements to maintain their status if this change occurs, according to the release.

During the spring 2020 and summer 2020 semesters, the exchange program granted international students within the U.S. an exemption to take more online classes than normal in light of COVID-19, according to the release.

International students at schools that plan to deliver courses fully online in the fall “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status,” the release said. International students at schools that plan to deliver courses normally in the fall will be bound by regular immigration restrictions.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will publish the updated temporary exemption rules in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule, according to the release.