• Vianessa Castaños

ICE Says that Student Visa Holders Have to Leave the US - But at What Cost?

Updated: Sep 16



Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, ICE wants international student visa holders to leave the US


Update: On July 14, 2020 the Trump administration rescinded its decision to force student visa holders to leave the U.S. if not enrolled in in-person classes. For more information, read this article from The New York Times.


People emigrate and immigrate to new countries for multiple reasons. Some are in pursuit of better money making opportunities, or to reconnect with family, while others are seeking out a fresh start in a new environment. But for many, moving to another country is done so in pursuit of higher education. Student visas are usually a young traveler’s first foray into another country; and while student visas are among the most commonly sought after in countries across the globe, that doesn’t mean that they’re easy to get. In order to study abroad a student must show that they not only have the aptitude, but also the finances for it. Because, you see, student visa holders are not typically allowed to work while studying abroad - sometimes they can solicit an additional visa to allow them to work a few hours per week in a job related to their field of study, and other times they are allowed to work part time jobs on campus - but despite those two (not easy to achieve) possibilities, a student visa holder must show that they have enough money to cover their living expenses for the duration of their stay.


“I was an F1 [US] visa student.” states Pame Guerrero. “The process is expensive. You worry all the time ... we get loans from back home to go to these universities where they charge us more than out of state students.” She adds “it’s so exciting and stressful to find the right job that is within your own subject matter. And during our studies we can only work on campus, and most of those jobs are reserved for students that need it more than you.”


But despite the existing hurdles to obtaining a student visa, the United States government just announced a decision that will make it all the more difficult - and in some cases impossible - for international students to remain in the USA. Earlier this week ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, announced that if U.S. universities offer online-only classes this fall, then international students will be required to leave the USA and continue their studies from their home countries given that their in-person presence would no longer be required.


So while universities are considering moving to digital learning as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19, ICE has decided to force foreign students to leave by their own volition or risk deportation.


“This rule is completely unfair to every foreign student in the country.” opines Jennifer Cook, an adjunct community college professor. “These are extenuating circumstances, for which students should not be punished. Some students are coming from countries that have terrible internet quality. This will be a detriment to live streaming and for time-sensitive assignments.”


But it’s also important to note that this decision has huge implications beyond just a change in visa status. By having student visas rescinded so abruptly means that international students now bear an additional financial and emotional burden.


The tuition for these schools and universities is unlikely to change, which means that these students will still be paying full tuition while not being able to access campus amenities, such as athletic centers and additional resources. And if the cost of moving to the USA was already high, now they’ll also need to contend with extremely expensive last-minute flights back to their home countries, along with the costs of covering moving expenses.


And of course there are the potential logistical challenges of being required to fly back to a country that might not be allowing even their own citizens to return from a place with such high COVID-19 viral infections as the USA. If forced to leave, where would these students go?


Meanwhile, as the US government seems to be making decisions without taking any of these factors into consideration, Harvard University and MIT have teamed up to sue the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in hopes of obtaining a temporary restraining order and injunction against the decision. The University of California has also stepped in with their own lawsuit against the federal government.


To learn more about how this decision might affect you and what exemptions will be made, check out the ICE website with the detailed information.





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