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Rules rollercoaster hits US schools as international students stay home

International education in the USA is reeling from a series of court judgements, government appeals and changing immigration policies which have hit universities, colleges and language schools in the run up to the new academic year in September.

Cheryl Delk-Le Good, executive director of accredited language centre association English USA, told the Gazette that they have recorded the closure of 15 member programmes in the past six months. However, she emphasised that, “member programmes continue to innovate and adjust to the roller coaster of government guidance and unknown short- and long-term impact of Covid-19.”

The most recent twist in the visa saga came in July, when government lawyers withdrew their appeal against an earlier North Carolina ruling on a 2018 lawsuit on “unlawful presence” for student-visa holders.

Under this policy – which came into force following a US Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) memo – immigration officers could ban international students on student visas from re-entering the US if they’d committed the most minor of technical breaches of their visas, even accidentally.

The court ruled that the way the policy was implemented was unlawful and “inconsistent” with the act on which it was based, and that it had a chilling effect on students going to their home countries for holidays.

Many international students had been fearful of doing so, anxious that they might not be able to return to the US. Universities feared they would be held liable for any of the students’ breaches of their visas. With the USCIS’s appeal now off the table, the judgement comes into immediate effect.

Shortly before USCIS dropped the appeal, its enforcement arm, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), changed its policy for the second time in just a few weeks, stating that they

would not issue any new student visas for international students for courses taught online.

Just one week earlier, threatened with court action by Harvard University and MIT, ICE rescinded its earlier guidelines, dating from 6 July. These advised international students already in the US to leave the country, change universities or face deportation if their course due to start in September was to be taught entirely online. Students on language courses faced even stricter conditions, with no online input allowed at all.

With Covid-19 cases still rising rapidly in the US, and existing

students no longer facing deportation, most universities, colleges and schools will now start the academic year with at least some courses still held online. English USA confirmed that, “many of our member programmes are offering programmes this [autumn] with an online component.”

Most first-year international students will join courses online from their home countries, often facing a time zone difference of up to 11 hours, as they can’t get visas, or even attend a mandatory face- to-face interview for a visa at a US consulate, which only started slowly reopening on 15 July.

Matt Salusbury
Matt Salusbury
MATT SALUSBURY, news editor and journalist, has worked for EL Gazette since 2007. He is also joint Chair of the London Freelance Branch of the National Union of Journalists and co-edits its newsletter, the Freelance. He taught English language for 15 years in the Netherlands, in Turkey, in a North London further education college and now as an English for Academic Purposes tutor, most recently at the London School of Economics. He is a native English speaker and is also fluent in Dutch.
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