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International students cannot take online only schedule and stay in the U.S.

Posted at 11:45 PM, Jul 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-07 23:45:44-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that international students must do some form of in person classes to remain in the United States.

ICE allowed students to have a full online course load last semester due to COVID-19, but will not extend the exception into the fall. Typically, international students under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) are allowed to take up to one online class, equivalent to three credits, a semester.

Hiba Hassan is an international student from the United Arab Emirates. She now wonders if she will be able to stay in the United States, for her third and final year studying business at The University at Buffalo. She said she felt the decision was rash.

“I think it was very inconsiderate," she said. "I honestly low-key feel offended.”

Hassan said a major reason why she came to school in the United States was for the Optional Professional Training program, which allows students to gain experience for one year in their field upon graduation. Hassan said she has to apply to the program from within the U.S., meaning she can't be going to school remotely from the UAE.

"I'm not going to be able to get the chance to do what I paid, what, $40,000 for a year," she said.

ICE is allowing students to take hybrid courses that include a mix of in-person and online instruction. John Wood, Interim Vice Provost of International Education at UB, said the university is working on hybrid courses and will have an updated schedule for students available in mid-July.

Wood said students majors could play a role in how many hybrid courses are available to them and fit with their schedule.

“We were hoping that such flexibility would continue in the fall semester in light of the ongoing COVID situation, which makes it difficult to maintain sort of normal instructional arrangements," he said.

According to SUNY data, UB had 5,900 international students enrolled last fall. That is nearly 30% of all international students in the SUNY system. Rosanna Berardi, a managing partner at Berardi Immigration Law, said ICE's decision will have a huge impact on Western New York specifically.

“Students obviously live in apartments they shop at stores, they go out to dinner," she said. "I mean even if half of those people had to leave the United States that’s a significant debt to an economy like ours in Western New York.”

Hassan said it's not just about school, but her life. She worries she won't have one last American Thanksgiving, with her Freshman year roommate's family.

“It’s such a small trivial worry, but I genuinely think it’s one of the saddest things I’m scared of right now,” she said.