José López Zamorano | La Red Hispana 
Photo Credit: La Red Hispana

Surprisingly, the administration of President Donald Trump this week made the controversial decision to send thousands of foreign students enrolled in US educational institutions back to their home countries if universities they attend do not offer in-person classes during the fall semester, due to health recommendations from the COVID-19 pandemic

The Institute of International Education (IIE) estimates that more than 1 million international students resided in bachelor, master or doctoral level programs enrolled during the 2018-2019 school year, which would represent around 5.5% of the total the student community in the country.

Those most affected will undoubtedly be Chinese students, estimated at more than 370,000, followed by those from India with more than 200,000. The list of the top 10 countries with foreign students also includes South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Brazil, and Mexico, the latter with 15,000 students at American universities.

Official notification from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) states that students with J-1 and M-1 visas who are enrolled in schools that operate entirely online may not remain in the United States. Likewise, the State Department will not issue visas to students interested in those schools that are processing from outside the United States for the next school semester.

If educational institutions offer a hybrid model – a mix of in-person classes and online classes – foreign students will only be allowed to take more than one class, or three credit hours, online. ICE warned that those students who do not abide by the new regulations may face immigration consequences, including the start of the process of removal from the country.

At least 8% of a grouping of 1,000 US universities monitored by The Chronicle of Higher Education plans to offer only online classes, 65% will offer in-person classes and 23% will have the option of a hybrid model, so that ICE’s action may affect tens of thousands of young people.

In all cases, students must continue paying their school fees if they wish to obtain an official certificate. But if a high percentage choose to drop out of education at a U.S. institution, a massive stampede could affect the sustainability of many U.S. universities.

Harvard University President Larry Bacow said the decision erodes the schools’ “careful approach” to striking a balance between health, safety, and education, while Senator Elizabeth Warren called student policy “cruel and xenophobic ”and asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to eliminate it immediately. Good idea.

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