Tue | Aug 4, 2020

Student deportation fears

Published:Tuesday | July 7, 2020 | 12:27 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

Hundreds of Jamaican students who pursue tertiary studies in the United States could find themselves at risk of being deported if their universities switch to online-only courses, according to a statement from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) yesterday.

It was revealed that it may affect thousands of foreign students.

The US mainstream media have quoted ICE as saying that students who fall under certain visa categories “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States”.

The report further added that the State Department will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programmes that are fully online for the fall semester nor will US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.

Universities across the US are beginning to transition to online courses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jamaican-American immigration attorney Dahlia Walker-Huntington told The Gleaner yesterday that the measures will impact some students’ studies.

“Some colleges and universities have not yet even figured out what they are doing for the fall as yet.

“Some will have to leave based on their schedules and others will not be granted visas to study,” said Huntington.

According to the immigration specialist, “if they don’t leave or enrol in another programme, the government can begin removal proceedings against them.

The Washington-based Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications to temporary exemptions or non-immigrant students taking online classes owing to COVID-19 for the fall 2020 semester.

As a result of the pandemic, SEVP instituted a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters.

“The policy permitted non-immigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their non-immigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency,” the SEVP stated.

ICE suggested that students currently enrolled in the US consider other measures, like transferring to schools with in-person instruction.

There’s an exception for universities using a hybrid model, such as a mix of online and in-person classes.

Visa requirements for students have always been strict and coming to the US to take online-only courses has been prohibited.

“These are not some fly-by-night universities, these aren’t scams, these are legit universities who would normally have in-person curricula but for coronavirus,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC.

“The bigger issue is some of these countries have travel restrictions on and they can’t go home, so what do they do then?” she added. “It’s a conundrum for a lot of students.”