New rule will force ‘exhausted’ Canadian students out of the United States

USA

CALGARY — A new rule set to be imposed on international students means thousands of Canadians will have to return home from studying in the United States. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) notified post-secondary institutions on Monday of coming changes for the fall semester. Starting in September, international students will be forced to leave the country or transfer to another school if their college or university is only offering online courses.

The guidelines put pressure on schools to reopen after the pandemic caused a shift online in the spring. But many have already announced they’re planning to continue computer coursework, including Harvard University. 

That puts Calgarian Chevy Lazenby in a tough spot. 

“The first feeling is definitely shock,” the Harvard student said. “We had sort of wrapped our heads around the fact that the fall would be an unusual semester to begin with, but this news that we would have to leave the country is definitely fresh … people are exhausted at this point.”

The news from ICE was released the same day Harvard announced it would be keeping its classes online come September. That school, along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday to challenge the decision. 

Harvard has roughly 5,000 international students. 

“Plenty of people are going to be impacted by this, and I think that I am definitely in the luckiest group,” Lazenby told CTV News from Boston.

“I have a land border working in my favour and I have a home to go back to in Calgary with stable internet and a loving family. There are heaps of people who don’t have an affordable or safe way of getting back home. They may have a place to return to, but then when you start thinking about time zones and Wi-Fi bandwidth and a safe space to study, that’s less obvious for a lot of people.”

Eight per cent of Canadians studying abroad attend school south of the border, according to 2016 data from the Canadian Bureau for International Education. 

While ICE has announced the shift, a formal rule hasn’t yet come down. When it does, visas will not be issued to students at online-only schools, and international students won’t be exempt even if a COVID-19 outbreak forces all of their in-person classes online during the fall term.

Despite pushback warning of displacement and possible confusion, the American federal government says the decision is the correct one. 

President Donald Trump has made it clear he would like to see all universities and colleges offer in-person learning during the fall semester. 

On Monday, he tweeted an all-capital letter reminder, writing “schools must open in the fall!!!”

NAFSA, an American organization made up of “professionals in all areas of international education,” sent out a statement disagreeing with the president Monday. 

“Today’s guidance issued by ICE is harmful to international students and puts their health and well-being and that of the entire higher education community at risk,” CEO Dr. Esther Brimmer said. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States remains unpredictable and institutions should be trusted and be given the authority to make decisions that are right for their campuses based on their local circumstances.”

The news comes as the virus continues to surge across the United States. 

“This pandemic is very far from being over,” Lazenby said. “If thousands of students are forced to leave, there’s a good chance that could create more outbreaks in other countries.”

On Wednesday, 60,000 new COVID-19 cases were tallied, according to Reuters. That’s the biggest increase ever reported by a country in a single day.

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