ICE rule international students
International students will have to pack their bags and head home if their university is only conducting online classes this fall. Source: Spencer Platt/AFP

International students on F-1 and M-1 student visas in the US are panicking over a recently announced new rule by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Last week, ICE said international students must leave the country or risk getting deported if all their fall classes have moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many are unable to return home to study due to travel restrictions, lack of flights, or are unable to connect to the internet to study online back home.

One student who was set to begin a master’s degree on July 13 at a university that is holding all classes online told CNBC Make It, “I am currently in the US and need to return home to Mumbai before July 13. Tickets on the rescue mission flights before July 13 are sold out which makes it difficult for me to return home.”

Over 200 universities and 17 states are now filing lawsuits against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, but the rule is still in place.

Are there alternatives to buying what could possibly be a one-way ticket back home?

Wait for guidance from your university

Colleges and universities are now changing their plans for the fall semester to allow international students to stay, following this shock announcement.

According to the Los Angeles Times, campuses planning fully online instruction this fall must submit a revised plan for offering in-person courses this week. Those planning a mix of online and in-person classes — hybrid learning — must do so by Aug. 4.

If they do offer hybrid learning, in-person classes will most likely be limited to labs and small tutorials to curb infections.

CNBC Make It reported that schools such as New York University are working with international students so that they have access to in-person classes.

A circulating Google Sheets hub contains a number of spreadsheets to help international students request for on-campus classes, encouraging those who are not at risk to swap or give up their spot for international students.

ICE rule international students

Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sued the Trump administration for its decision to strip international college students of their visas if all of their courses are held online. Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images via AFP

Transfer to another school

If your university is only offering online learning in the fall, the only way you can stay in the US is if you attend in-person classes. This means you should consider transferring to an institution that is offering hybrid learning if you plan to stay in the US.

In ICE’s announcement, the federal law enforcement agency under the US Department of Homeland Security said, “active students currently in the US enrolled in such programmes must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.”

You may be able to transfer to a community college if you are unable to meet the admission criteria for other universities. Get in touch with local colleges and universities asap to find out if you can still apply for a transfer this fall.

Check for nearby options. This way you won’t have to move out of your residence or make too many adjustments before the fall term starts.

If you’ve already paid for your fall semester fees but wish to transfer, write to your university asking for a refund due to the current circumstances. Hopefully, they will be sympathetic to your plight because of the abrupt rule change.

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