We're into the part of the summer where higher learning institutions must start deciding whether they will will re-open campuses for classroom instruction, offer on-line instruction only, or some sort of hybrid mixture of in-person and on-line classes. To go along with that confusion, the Department of Homeland Security has imposed a new rule that is causing quite the stir among students, faculty and immigration advocates.

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a broadcast message that states:

"Students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. 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. 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 or potentially face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the
initiation of removal proceedings."

It all very confusing, as the statement calls it a "temporary final rule"  and then in the next sentence it states these are "temporary exemptions". Either way, it comes across harshly and is being met with much criticism. There is one exception to the rule: "that international students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online."  Those students will be able to remain in or return to the U.S. as long as the program is not entirely online.

There's also a lot of "what ifs". For instance, what if a school starts out on-line, then the number of Covid-19 cases start to drop, or a vaccine becomes available? Or vice versa, what if the school starts out with on-campus instruction and moves to on-line? These students will either have trouble getting back to the U.S. or be forced to leave the country.

Here's what our three universities in the state of Iowa had to say about it on Twitter:

Now international students will be forced to make a decision between either leaving the country abruptly or scrambling to find a new program or institution that offers on-campus instruction or a hybrid. In the meantime, some experts are predicting, the ICE decision could actually backfire and "force the hand" of many universities in an effort to side with the international students. Many universities might decide to hold classroom in-person instruction that otherwise would have kept classes online. That brings students back to campus and jeopardizes the entire community's health. On the other hand, a reminder, that they pay their tuition, just like everybody else. So is this decision being made in the interest of public health or is it politically motivated?

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