CANTON — “Yet another roadblock” in an international student’s education endeavor, the temporary exemptions outlined by the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program on Monday have prompted St. Lawrence University to guarantee academic protections for its international students.
In a statement addressed to the “Laurentian Community” this week, SLU President William L. Fox and Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Kimberly Flint-Hamilton outlined the university’s plans to adjust fall semester registration procedures and ensure the availability of at least one hybrid course — with in-person and online instruction — to those with F-1 visas.
“We share our students’ concern and anxiety, and will protect and fight for the rights of belonging to this community regardless of one’s place of birth,” SLU officials wrote, adding that the contents of the SEVP guidelines “greatly disturb us.”
A program of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the SEVP modifications prohibit nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visa holders from remaining in the United States while taking fully online courseloads. F-1 visas are issued to international students enrolling in U.S. colleges or universities, and M-1 visas are designated for students attending vocational or technical schools.
“The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States,” the guidelines read in part. “Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
Schools adopting hybrid models of instruction are required to certify through a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” that programs are not entirely online, and that nonimmigrant F-1 students are not taking an entirely online courseload but that students are taking “the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.”
The modifications further restrict F-1 visa students in English language training programs and M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees from enrolling in any online courses.
On Monday, American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell called the ICE decision “horrifying” and described the guidelines as providing “confusion and complexity rather than certainty and clarity.”
“Iron-clad federal rules are not the answer at this time of great uncertainty,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Imagine a student who starts in-person classes at a college that physically reopens. If the college decides it must shift to remote instruction midway through the fall, this guidance could force the institution to tell that student to leave the United States and face an impossible return to another country that has closed its borders.”
Roughly 1 million international students are currently studying in the United States, according to the Institute of International Education, and at SLU, about 10 percent of the 2,500-member student body is represented by international students.
As described in its fall reopening plan, SLU will provide a combination of course types, including hybrid classes and fully online offerings. International students, according to the university, will have the opportunity to take at least one hybrid course to prevent an online-only courseload that may subject students to ICE deportation or other action.
International students not able to return to campus due to COVID-19 travel restrictions will have the option to return in the spring or summer next year.
“No matter how circumstances may change in the fall,” SLU officials said this week, “we will work with our international students to ensure academic progress toward their graduation and we will work to safeguard their home in the St. Lawrence community.”