US to deny entry to incoming international students with fully online course loads

International House
Michael Drummond/File
The International House usually has residents from around the world. Because of the pandemic, however, I-House is closed for the fall semester, and ICE has blocked incoming international students who are not taking in-person classes from entering the country.

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Friday that incoming international students will not be allowed entry to the United States to pursue a fully online course load.

Although the UC system planned to challenge ICE’s previous in-person class policy for all international students, ICE said in the Friday press release that school officials are not to issue a Form I-20, which nonimmigrant students need to apply for a visa, enter the United States and apply for benefits.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the Berkeley International Office, or BIO, has reissued I-20 documents for all new international students.

Despite campus’s recent announcement to begin fall semester fully online amid rising COVID-19 cases, Gilmore said the I-20 documents were issued along with an annotation citing the intended hybrid format of the fall semester.

As of press time, ICE did not respond to requests for comment regarding the rule in context of a hybrid format.

Incoming campus freshman Rijul Gupta had been planning to attend UC Berkeley since his acceptance in February as a regents scholar.

Gupta, who is based in Ghana, said campus issued him a Form I-20 for the fall semester about one month ago. Gupta added, however, that he has not secured a student visa amid challenges accessing the U.S. embassy in Ghana, which he said closed in April.

In addition to the logistical challenge with accessing the embassy, Gupta said he felt “uncertain” by the ICE rule.

“The ICE rule was pretty jarring,” Gupta said. “Even though I am international, I do feel as a student I should still feel safe in the country. It made me feel as if I wouldn’t be prioritized.”

Amid issues with accessing a student visa and U.S. embassy services, Gupta, who is enrolled in the Rausser College of Natural Resources, said he still considered attending the fall semester in person.

Gupta said the timeline of obtaining necessary visa documents prevented that possibility, however.

“Once (campus) even announced the hybrid model, I was OK with that,” Gupta said. “I knew I couldn’t come — I was restricted by visa implications here.”

Gupta said he has now adopted a “wait and watch” approach to his upcoming freshman year.

According to Gupta, as he awaits to approach the embassy to begin the visa process, he anticipates BIO will provide him with another Form I-20 for the spring semester.

Amid the pandemic, Gupta added that he hopes a COVID-19 vaccination will make a spring arrival to UC Berkeley possible.

“That is kind of my only plan,” Gupta said. “Just hope.”

Contact Hanna Lykke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hannaathearstDC.