In a media release issued on July 6, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) announced a rollback of the protections it afforded to foreign students in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. The July 6 release announced that foreign students will no longer be eligible for F-1 visas or to remain in the United States to participate in online-only courses of study. Coming only six weeks before the start of the fall semester, the guidance has raised serious concerns for premier US universities, for which foreign students provide one of the greatest sources of revenue, already leading Harvard and MIT to file suit challenging the sudden reversal in posture only six weeks before the start of the fall semester. Other major universities, accompanied by business groups and a number of state attorneys general, are considering challenges to the new policy.
The policy change is expected to affect an estimated more than 1 million student visa holders in the United States, as well as others presently outside the United States who have been admitted for the fall semester. Students currently in the United States and planning to attend schools that have elected to offer online-only classes in the fall 2020 semester “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school offering in-person instruction to remain in lawful status” per the release.