ITHACA, N.Y. — On Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced they will not issue visas to international students for the upcoming fall semester if a student’s course load is fully online. 

“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,” ICE stated in Monday’s release.

Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College will begin the upcoming fall semester following a hybrid model of both in-person and online classes. Per ICE’s new policy, international students in hybrid institutions can take some online classes, as long as they are not taking a fully online course load and are “taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.”

Cornell University President Martha Pollack denounced the new policy in a public message on Wednesday, but did not offer specific details on how the policy will affect students.

“This was wholly unexpected, and it is a senseless and unfair policy that runs counter to all that we stand for as a global academic community,” President Pollack stated in her release. “While it appears that Cornell’s international students will largely not be negatively affected by this ruling because of our recent decision to use hybrid teaching (both in person and online) this fall, we nonetheless stand in the strongest opposition to this recent policy decision.”

Cornell’s International Services office issued another statement, clarifying that Cornell’s hybrid model will allow for international students to have some flexibility in taking online courses, but that the policy may apply differently across degree programs.

The Ithaca College administration also denounced the policy in an email announcement.

“The global pandemic has greatly exacerbated the numerous obstacles these students already face in their studies, and prohibiting them from remaining at a college that offers only remote instruction for the fall semester is both unreasonable and unjust,” Ithaca College administration stated. “While Ithaca College does plan to open for in-person instruction this fall, there is uncertainty regarding how our modified academic calendar might impact our international students.”

Chris Pradhan, a Public Health major at Ithaca College from Nepal, said that ICE’s policy caused him concern for himself and others.

“It makes absolutely no sense why this has to happen. We’re coming here as legal, non-resident immigrants, so what’s the issue with us staying here when COVID is going on?” Pradhan said. “A lot of international students like myself, we worked pretty hard to get here to the U.S. There are definitely a lot of people who are really going to be struggling—they worked so hard and then their futures are kind of ruined.”

Pradhan said that, even though Ithaca College will be on a hybrid model, most of his major’s course requirements are only being offered online.

“My worry with scheduling and with the college is that I won’t be able to even have a class that is in-person, and if that happens, even with the hybrid approach it doesn’t matter. If I’m not registered for an in-person class then I have to leave.”

ICE is also requiring that institutions submit an I-20 form certifying that any international students who are enrolling in the upcoming fall semester are abiding by the restrictions laid out in Monday’s guidelines.

Roughly 5,000 international students live in Ithaca, with 23% of Cornell University’s student population, 2% of Ithaca College’s student population, and between 2% and 6% of Tompkins County Community College’s student population is made up of international students.

Featured Photo: Cornell Clock Tower courtesy of Shea H Belsky.