ICE tells students on visas they must leave US if schools go online-only

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Monday that international students in the U.S. whose schools switch to online classes for the fall semester will have to leave the country or risk violating their visa status.

Under the new rule, foreign nationals enrolled in U.S. educational institutions will have to leave the country unless part of their course load this fall is taken in-person. 

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) had allowed for foreign students to take their spring and summer 2020 courses online while remaining in the United States, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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SEVP, the institution that sets the rules for student visas, is run by ICE, which is generally dedicated to immigration enforcement. 

In its announcement, SEVP said foreign students who do not transfer to in-person programs and remain in the United States while enrolled in online courses could face "immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings."

Students taking in-person programs will be allowed to remain in the country, while schools with hybrid online/in-person courses will be required to certify their programs are not entirely online. 

Students in English language courses and certain students pursuing vocational degrees will not be allowed to take online courses.

The move comes as international student enrollment has steadily decreased from its high point in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the Institute of International Education

International enrollment is down in every category — undergraduate, graduate and non-degree — with 269,383 enrolled in the 2018-2019 school year, compared with a high of 300,743 new students in 2015-2016.

According to the Commerce Department, international students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018.