ICE bars international students from taking online-only course loads in US

UC Berkeley International House
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UC Berkeley's International House accommodates about 600 students and scholars from more than 70 countries.

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that international students will be required to leave the United States if their classes are all online.

The regulations mandate that students must attend at least one in-person class in order to remain in the country. Schools must reissue new I-20 forms by Aug. 4 for every student who does not take an entirely online course load.

“(The Student and Exchange Visitor Program) is trying to provide maximum flexibility,” said ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell. “We have done so since the spring and are continuing to do so in the fall.”

Ivor Emmanuel, director of the Berkeley International Office, or BIO, estimated that his office will need to reissue 3,000 to 4,000 student visa documents by the August deadline. Emmanuel also explained that the BIO will examine whether UC Berkeley has enough in-person classes to meet student needs.

“It appears from this guidance that the ultimate aim is to force the universities into reopening with in-person classes as soon as possible,” Emmanuel said. “In other words, they have eliminated the flexibility of allowing remote classes while students remain in the United States.”

Emmanuel added that he hopes to give students more details by the end of the week.

Domestic and international students at UC Berkeley have expressed their anger and confusion following the announcement. According to Riya Master, chief of staff for ASUC External Affairs Vice President Derek Imai, students are scrambling to come up with solutions to fulfill the in-person class requirement, including creating DeCal courses specifically for international students.

“Hardworking students are being used as political pawns between ICE and our school system,” Master alleged. “These are real people with real lives who risk a lot to come to another country to get an education here, and they are being treated very poorly.”

Master said she hopes the BIO and campus administration will be as transparent as possible about plans, supporting students and pursuing legal action in response.

ASUC Senator Samuel Peng, who represents the international community, emphasized that students must stand in solidarity with international students during this time. He said in an email that international students are vital to the campus community and must be treated equally, and alleged that ICE’s regulations are “horrendous and blatantly xenophobic.”

Peng added that UC Berkeley would lose more than $200 million in international student tuition if these policies are implemented without accommodations, and echoed sentiments about pursuing legal action on behalf of the students.

ASUC President Victoria Vera said although students have been helping one another, she hopes to see actions from campus administration.

“This is larger than just our campus,” Vera said. “The university needs to be vocal about this decision and needs to show that the decision is not OK and know that it has severe impacts on the international community.”

Contact Naomi Birenbaum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @NaomiBirenbaum1.

A previous version of this article implied that ICE barred international students from taking online courses.