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Ole Miss international students plan fall semester amid deportation threat

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, announced this week that international students “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States” during the fall 2020 semester.

Schools and universities across the country are in the process of figuring out how to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, including the University of Mississippi, which is home to more than 800 international students.

“As the University continues to implement its Campus Ready plan, we are consistently reviewing and modifying parameters and protocols as needed based on public health recommendations and other developments,” Rod Guajardo, the Associate Director of Strategic Communications, said. “The information shared by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement yesterday is a new development, and the University’s Office of Global Engagement is actively reviewing to determine the best path forward for our university and for our international students and programs.”

While some schools offer the option for students to take a hybrid combination of in-person and online courses, some students will be permitted to take online-only courses, so long as their entire course load isn’t online. 

According to the University of Mississippi Office of Global Engagement, the general requirement for international students on an F-1 and J-1 visa is to be enrolled as a full-time student. This requirement has its limitations when it comes to taking online classes.

For example, international undergraduate students are allowed to take one three-hour class online out of their required 12-hour course load. Graduate students are also allowed to take a three-hour class online so long as their remaining six hours are in person. Students taking IE090 or IE091  and students in the OMI Accelerator programs do not have an option of an online class that counts toward their full-time enrollment status.

A course qualifies as an in-person class if there is a physical classroom presence that is integral to the course. Even if part of the course is offered online, it still qualifies as being in person. So, if half of a class meets in a classroom on Tuesdays while the other half meets online on Thursdays, then the class still qualifies as being in-person because there is a physical classroom presence that is integral to the course.

International students who are taking classes outside of the United States do not have the limitations of taking online classes like those that are here on a student visa. These students can still be enrolled at the University online while still being in another country.

International students who remain in the United States while taking online-only courses may face consequences, including “the initiation of removal proceedings.” The rule also applies to students whose course loads change mid-semester. Students who change course selections or are required to switch to online-only learning must notify ICE within 10 days.

Students during the spring 2020 semester were able to maintain their visa status despite having to switch to online courses. This is because the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) made an exception for them for the “duration of the emergency.” Now that there has been a change to the way courses are being delivered this semester, the issue of what will happen to international students if the University is forced to go strictly online again for the fall semester remains.

At the moment, the University of Mississippi hasn’t established any guidelines on how to approach this issue, but it is expected to do so in the coming weeks.

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