WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced a policy reversal this week that could put thousands of international students in jeopardy of deportation.
The rule says the international students who are enrolled in online classes full-time must return to their home countries.
But with the novel coronavirus pandemic forcing universities to choose between in-person or online instruction, the real decision is taken out of student’s hands.
Georgetown University has released its plans for the upcoming semester.
The school says it’s planning to offer a range of fully virtual to hybrid-flexible classes – and that could cause problems for international students.
“The country stands to benefit from us. All we want is to follow the law and do it right. If you are not allowing the best people from all over the world come to study in this country and contribute who do you believe could immigrate to this country? No one,” said graduate student Daniel Di Martino.
Di Martino is set to attend Columbia this fall to study for his Ph.D. But that opportunity is now in jeopardy because of the policy reversal.
The policy is called the Student and Exchange Visitor Program – or SEVP.
SEVP has granted students visas for international students, but the caveat is that the students must enroll at their university with in-person class instruction.
When COVID-19 forced universities to transition to online classes, ICE granted an exception for all international students through the spring semester and for summer classes.
But now, ICE has announced that it will reverse the exception – the only problem is that universities are still trying to figure out whether they will have online or in-person instruction for the fall semester.
The indecision is putting the lives of international students in limbo.
“I think it’s plain evil because there is literally no benefit. No one will benefit from this rule,” Di Martino said. “I just hope my classes are hybrid because if they’re online I’m going to have to leave all by belongings here in Kentucky. I have a car. I have bed, desk, I have clothes. How am I going to take that to Spain to live for six months? I can only take one bag. How am I going to find a flight? How am I going to pay for this?"
Other local schools announcing hybrid class schedules include the University of Maryland, George Mason and Howard.
George Washington says they will start with in-person instruction, but still offer all classes virtually as an option.
All of these plans are subject to change given the severity of the pandemic.