International students going to college in the United States may have to leave the country or transfer to another college if their schools decide to teach all classes online, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Monday.
If the coronavirus worsens and causes more schools to close campuses and move online, as they did in spring, the decision could affect thousands of college students in Washington.
But so far, only one public state institution — Eastern Washington University — has announced plans to teach all of its fall classes online. The rest of the state’s two- and four-year colleges and universities plan to teach using a hybrid model, with some classes online and some classes in-person.
Washington colleges and universities play host to thousands of international students who come here to earn a degree. In fall 2018, the latest year for which figures are available, there were more than 27,000 international students studying in Washington, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE).
Among all states, Washington ranks 11th for the number of international students who study here. The University of Washington is the largest draw, with 9,311 international students studying there in fall 2018, according to IIE.
Several Puget Sound-area community colleges also hosted more than a thousand international students each, including Green River, Seattle Central and Edmonds community colleges, in 2018. International students typically pay significantly more than in-state students and provide a major source of revenue for the institutions.
The policy, described as a temporary exemption for the fall 2020 semester, says the U.S. Department of State “will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.” Students now in the United States will have to leave the country, or transfer to a school with in-person instruction, if their school teaches all classes online.
According to the release, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a temporary final rule.