March 1, 2021 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

ICE Ruling Puts International Students’ Future at SMC in Jeopardy

SMC considering alternatives to online-only plan for Fall 2020

By Sam Catanzaro

Last week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students need to leave the country if their college is offering online courses online only, the current plan at Santa Monica College (SMC), one of the nation’s leaders in international student enrollment.

International students in the U.S. on F-1 and M-1 visas have historically been prohibited from taking more than course online. As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spread, however, and schools shut down campuses, ICE announced in March that they would “adjust guidance as needed.”

On July 6, ICE announced that adjustment, reinstating a rule that makes a visa for international students contingent on at least some education taking place in-person.

“Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. 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. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” reads the ICE ruling.

In May, SMC announced that its fall semester–set to begin August 31–will be held online expressing doubt that a COVID-19 vaccine will be available before then. According to school administrators, under the current plan in-person classes will only be available to students enrolled in SMC’s nursing program. Due to the ICE ruling, however, the college is now considering alternatives to allow its non-nursing program international students to stay in the U.S.

“Santa Monica College plans to offer classes and student support services primarily online for the summer and fall semester, with the exception of limited hybrid courses for the Nursing program. The July 6 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announcement…is devastating for the international students who choose to attend Santa Monica College over almost all the colleges in the nation,” the College said in a statement. “More than 2,500 students from 110 nations bring the world to not just Santa Monica College, but to Santa Monica and the greater Los Angeles area. They make this college one of the most vibrant and diverse in the world. It is not possible to sum up in words the intrinsic value that these students, who travel thousands of miles, leaving their homes, bring to the college and to our local/national students.”

A 2018/2019 Institute of International Education report found that SMC had the third most international students among associate colleges in the U.S. with 3,062 such individuals enrolled.

According to SMC, in the wake of the ICE ruling, the college’s International Education Center has been working “very hard to ascertain the best possible solution, including offering additional hybrid opportunities, for each individual student.”

There will be more coverage on this topic as more information becomes available.

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