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The ICE regulations may put over 450 admitted international first years at risk.

Credit: Isabella Cossu

Incoming international first years taking an online-only course load will not be allowed in the United States this fall.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed on Friday that its guidelines permitting international students to enter the country if they are taking an entirely online fall course load only applies to students who were actively enrolled in an American school on March 9.

About 14% of admitted students to the Class of 2024 classify as international students who come from 98 countries, placing over 450 admitted international first years at risk under the restrictions.

Penn students who intend to pursue a “100 percent” online course of study will likely not be able to obtain a visa to study in the U.S., International Student and Scholar Services Director Rodolfo Altamirano wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. Students who enroll in a course load that includes both in-person and online components will likely be able to acquire F-1 status and can get letters of support from their school or department to confirm they are attending a hybrid program in the fall, Altamirano wrote.

The agency instructed school officials not to distribute a Form I-20 to nonimmigrant students in new or initial status who are outside of the country and plan to enroll in solely virtual classes in the upcoming semester. The Form I-20 is an essential document nonimmigrant students apply for in order to study in the United States.

The guidance is still vague and ISSS will continue to seek clarification from the federal government, Altamirano wrote.

On July 14, the federal government revoked restrictions that barred international students from entering or staying in the country if they were not registered for any in-person classes this fall. The initial immigration policy, announced by ICE on July 6, would have put over one million international students at risk of losing their F-1 visa sponsorship.  

After reversing the guidelines, ICE and the Department of Homeland Security agreed to reinstate the policy ICE released in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which allowed international students to remain in the country while taking an exclusively online course load. 

Penn condemned the initial restrictions and submitted an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology against ICE and DHS on July 8. 

“We are unrelenting in our commitment to continue fighting for our international students to ensure that they are treated as equal members of our educational community,” Gutmann wrote in an email to the DP on July 14.