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Colleges 'scrambling' over rule that won't allow international students to take all online classes

Immigration attorney Troy Mattes called the decision to reimplement the rule 'cruel'

Fall semester is set to begin at universities across the country in a matter of weeks. But Monday, a decision was announced concerning international students that has some colleges 'scrambling.'

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced it would reinstate a rule nationwide that blocks international students from taking all of their college classes online. 

However, due to the pandemic, multiple colleges have already decided to conduct enter semesters online, or hold hybrid classes.

Read the full order here.

"That's what's so weird about this. It comes out of left field. It comes out of left field on July 6th," said Lancaster immigration attorney Troy Mattes of Mattes & Mahon, PC, who is assisting multiple local colleges as they try to assist students amidst the sudden announcement. Mattes later added, "The only word for it is cruel."

RELATED: ICE says foreign students can't take online-only classes amid pandemic

The rule warns international students that do not follow the regulation that they could have action taken against them that would remove them from the country.

Mattes said "the spirit of that rule wasn't for what's happening now because nobody saw this pandemic coming." Still, he acknowledged the rule is discretionary, and "discretion is so broad in immigration law."

Complicating matters, Mattes said there isn't much time to help students transfer if they plan to attend a college in the fall that has decided to hold all classes online. 

Mattes added, many universities are also worried about what could happen if the number of COVID-19 cases continues to fluctuate throughout the fall semester and possibly force some colleges to go remote again.

Mattes said if removal proceedings were initiated against any international student, the student could still go before an immigration judge, get an attorney, and argue their case.

"It would be a very long process. And, that's one thing just to reiterate to students that are watching this, that there is no such thing as okay you're taking all online classes and ICE finds out and they're coming to your door and away you go back to your country," said Mattes. 

Learn more about how local universities are reacting to the rule change here:

Dickinson College

 “Dickinson plans to teach in person in the fall, but the pandemic might prompt us to go to remote instruction temporarily. If so, forcing international students who are safely studying here to leave the country threatens their health, is mean spirited, and undermines the interests of higher education and the United States as a whole. International students enrich the education of our domestic students, and their presence here helps the rest of the world better understand us.” - President Margee M. Ensign, Dickinson College 

Elizabethtown College

 "Elizabethtown College is fully committed to helping its international students complete their coursework and continue to offer a variety of support and advising services. As we learn more about the announcement, we do not have many students impacted at this time as we plan to hold in-person classes this fall. However, we will work with any of our international students who may have issues returning to campus if they are not already in the U.S." said Keri Straub, Senior Director of Marketing & Communications 

Find the latest on the Fall semester here: https://www.etown.edu/covid/covid_19.aspx

Franklin & Marshall College 

"Franklin & Marshall College, like all colleges and universities in the US, is in the process of fully comprehending the scope of the recent ruling regarding online learning and international students. Since the College has decided to operate "in-person" instruction, F&M's international students in the US are not currently under threat of being forced to leave the country. We continue to collaborate with other professionals in the field and consult expert resources as we work to keep our students, faculty and staff fully informed about the ramifications of this ruling." - Sue Mennicke, F&M's associate dean for International Programs:

Harrisburg University

Read full statement here

Lebanon Valley College

- Told FOX43 it has 19 students impacted by the new regulations.   

 "We are planning to begin fall semester courses on-campus and in-person and are finalizing a detailed plan for doing so as safely as possible," said spokesperson Molly O’Brien-Foelsch. "We are in the processing of reviewing how these students will be impacted, particularly when we go online as planned after Thanksgiving, and if we must go online earlier than planned. We hope that there is a way our international students will be able to continue their LVC studies while residing in the U.S. so that they may easily return to campus when classes again resume in person."

Messiah University

"Messiah University is planning to reopen in August for an on-campus, in-person start to its undergraduate fall session. The fall 2020 calendar will be moved up by one week, eliminating fall break and concluding classroom instruction with evening classes on the Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving break. Finals will be conducted remotely in the week following Thanksgiving, concluding the fall semester at the end of the first week of December.

 Annually, we host over 100 F-1 students on Messiah’s campus. The guidance issued yesterday by ICE may impact every single one of our F-1 students, because while we are moving forward with our plans to offer an in-person experience, if at any point over the fall semester the university has to move all of our classes online due to the COVID-19 emergency, all of our F-1 students would need to leave the U.S. Additionally, we have some students who are currently in their home countries and are facing challenges returning to the U.S. for their studies; this new guidance forces them to have their SEVIS records terminated while engaging in temporary remote learning abroad.

We are extremely surprised and disappointed by this guidance; it is starkly different from that which was issued by ICE in the spring. Messiah University looks forward to welcoming our new international students to campus every year, and we celebrate the diverse perspectives that each of our international students contribute to our community. This new guidance for fall 2020 creates significant hardship and uncertainty for our students who have faced so many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and does not give consideration to the importance of their presence, both online and in person."

 - Danielle Ran, Director of Communications, Messiah University

Shippensburg University

- Told FOX43 it has 29 international students planning to attend this fall

 "(Shippensburg) will open for face-to-face instruction, with classes beginning on August 17. You can find more information on that fall2020.shipnews.org," said spokesperson Megan Silverstrim. She added, "International students have a place for learning at Shippensburg University."


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