Jenny Lee: Navigating US immigration guidelines on online classes for international students

University of Arizona’s Jenny Lee discusses how the new guidance on online classes presents a challenge as many universities still offer a significant portion of their programs online.

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Over the past two years, the United States has seen changes in the way education is delivered, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the nation grappled with the ever-mounting challenges posed by the health crisis, colleges and universities across the country found themselves in a relentless battle to adapt. Virtual classrooms replaced lecture halls, and face-to-face interactions gave way to computer screens.

In the midst of this, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that international students planning to enroll exclusively in online classes for the upcoming fall semester would be barred from entering the country.

During the pandemic, students on these visas were granted flexibility to take a substantial portion of their classes virtually.

However, the US Department of Homeland Security recently decided to revert to pre-pandemic policies, effective from the 2023-24 academic year, therefore ushering in a new set of regulations.

International students with F-1 visas will now be permitted to take just one of their classes, equivalent to up to three credits, online each semester. The majority of their coursework must be conducted in person.

Those holding M-1 visas, typically used for nonacademic or vocational courses, will no longer have the option to take any virtual classes. All of their classes must be in person.

This decision follows the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency and the COVID-19 National Emergency on April 10.

In the upcoming summer semester, flexibility will continue to apply for students planning to take summer classes. However, these changes will come into full effect at the commencement of the 2023-24 academic year.

Even international students who have been studying online since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 will need to adhere to the new regulations starting in the 2023-24 academic year. This means that previous pre-COVID rules will be reinstated, with no exceptions for those who were already studying in the US.

International students have the option to continue their enrollment in fully online programs. However, they are not permitted to remain in the US under a student visa.

With new immigration guidance affecting international students in the US, MSM Reporter spoke with Jenny Lee, vice president and dean of Arizona International and professor of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, to gain insights into its implications.

Lee discussed how the new guidance presents a challenge, as many universities still offer a significant portion of their programs online, making it difficult to align with the new rule.

She also highlighted the discrepancy between the guidance and the current landscape of higher education, where flexibility and variety in learning options remain crucial.

With the new US immigration guidance now in effect, how do you perceive its impact on the decisions and experiences of incoming international students who are still navigating their academic paths?

Since the onset of COVID-19, universities have pivoted towards online education for all – domestic and international students. The challenge for international students is that the immigration guidance does not reflect the current reality that universities are continuing to offer many of their programs online with fewer in-person class options than before.

For international students, their choice in academic programs and universities may be towards those that offer more in-person courses.

Have you observed immediate challenges or successes that institutions and international students are facing with the shift towards more in-person and hybrid learning options?

There are pros and cons to both in-person and online learning. For international students in the US, they purposely opted to seek an in-person experience as there are online options back in their home countries. Thus, the guidance is well-intentioned but does not match the new reality for universities offering more varied learning options.

Addressing concerns about time zones and online accessibility, how are institutions adapting to support international students participating in hybrid courses from around the world?

Some programs offer asynchronous learning and others offer flipped classroom models to address challenges associated with time zones and online accessibility.

With the guidance favoring face-to-face instruction, how can universities find a balance between this preference and the diverse needs of international students dealing with travel restrictions and uncertainties?

Internationalization will not be equally accessible to all. Universities must consider which countries to best target as well as which academic programs offer sufficient in-person course offerings.

Moving forward with these new models, what strategies or practices are crucial for the successful integration of new international students into mixed-learning environments?

Universities will need to be more adaptive to international student situations and policies that make it more difficult for them to pursue a traditional degree in a traditional format. This would require more flexibility, such as providing transnational education where students could obtain an international degree from home or from other locations outside the US, while still earning a US degree.

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos has been a professional journalist for five years now. She has contributed and covered stories for premier Philippine dailies and publications, and has traveled to different parts of the country to capture and tell the most significant stories happening.

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Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos has been a professional journalist for five years now. She has contributed and covered stories for premier Philippine dailies and publications, and has traveled to different parts of the country to capture and tell the most significant stories happening.

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