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July 07, 2020

US warns foreign students’ visas could be withdrawn if all their classes move online

US warns foreign students’ visas could be withdrawn if all their classes move online

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has announced that foreign students who remain in the US while enrolled in online courses and fail to switch to in-person courses could face deportation.

The rule will apply to F-1 and M-1 visas that cover academic and vocational students, of which the State Department issued approximately 390,000 and 9,500, respectively, in 2019.

Many universities are intending to move classes online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including Harvard, which has said that all teaching will be delivered online in the forthcoming academic year, even for those students living on campus. 

Foreign students are a significant source of revenue for America’s universities. They also contribute to the US economy, with the US Commerce Department estimating they contributed $45 billion (£36 billion) in 2018.

IZA World of Labor author Arnaud Chevalier says that international student mobility can be beneficial for all involved: migrating students, as well as home and host societies. 

Studying abroad may give students the opportunity to acquire a wide range of skills that enable them to compete successfully in the labor market. Also, “host countries gain from hosting international students—from their spending while they are students to their positive effect on economic growth when they remain in the country.” Alongside this, “returning migrants and the diaspora that remains abroad can stimulate economic growth in the home country by facilitating trade, foreign direct investment, and technology diffusion.” Overall, “student migration stimulates economic growth,” he says.

However, Chevalier also notes that “technological changes may reduce the need for physical migration, especially for students who plan to return home.” Online teaching could therefore allow many people to follow and participate remotely in elite education.