Online classes could mean more than 500 Montgomery College immigrant students could be forced to leave

More than 500 Montgomery College international students could be forced to leave if classes are online in fall

New national policy says visa students must transfer, leave country if no in-person classes offered

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More than 500 Montgomery College immigrant students could be forced to transfer or leave the country if their schools conduct classes entirely online in the fall.

On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students who attend college in the United States on certain visas will not be allowed to remain in the country if the college they attend does not offer at least some in-person instruction.

The national policy change is to the Student Exchange Visitor Program for non-immigrant students attending on F-1 and M-1 visas for academic and vocational programs.

Montgomery College, home to more than 500 students on F-1 visas, lambasted the decision in a statement on Tuesday, saying it threatens student safety and slows economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is disappointing that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has failed to see the true value of international students, by prohibiting F1 Visa-holders from remaining enrolled at colleges offering only online learning,” Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard wrote in the statement. “Such opportunities should be open to international, as well as domestic students.”

Montgomery College has announced that its fall semester classes will be fully online and structured-remote. Structured-remote classes, according to the college’s website, means that classes will begin online, but could transition to an in-person format if conditions allow.

Last academic year, 567 students were enrolled at Montgomery College on F-1 visas, according to spokesman Marcus Rosano. On average, the college enrolls about 550 students from more than 120 countries annually.

The University System of Maryland, which includes Rockville’s Universities at Shady Grove, also criticized the change in policy.

“The USM and our member universities are reviewing the ICE policy to assess its potential impact on international students, and our universities are working with their students individually to ensure that all regulations are being followed,” USM said in a statement. “The USM will do everything necessary to make sure that our international students remain qualified to continue and complete their programs.”

A spokesman did not say how many students attended USG on F-1 visas in the spring.

A press release from ICE said visas will not be issued to students whose classes are conducted remotely, and students in the country will have to leave or transfer to a school with some in-person classes.

Usually, F-1 visa students cannot take more than one online class per semester, but if they attend a school using a mix of online and in-person classes in the fall, they will be allowed to take more than one virtual course, the ICE press release said.

If students begin by taking in-person classes in the fall semester but later must switch to a fully online course load, they will be required to leave the country, determine a reduced course load or take medical leave, according to the press release.

Noncompliance with these orders could lead to “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” the press release said.

Pollard’s statement suggested that the change could lead to infection risk for students forced to travel back to their home country and that online learning is a safeguard while the pandemic continues.

“As we work to rebuild our local and national economies, the U.S. cannot afford to think of its interests in isolationist terms,” Pollard’s statement said. “Instead of deporting foreign students, Montgomery College embraces them, celebrating the diversity they bring to our classrooms and the strengths they bring to our talent pipeline.”

Staff writer Caitlynn Peetz contributed to this story.

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