There has been a great deal of discussion around the predicament international students in the U.S. may face if their post-secondary institution opts to go online-only when classes resume this fall, causing much uncertainty. We will delve further into this topic below, after providing an update on the Canada-U.S. border closure, which the Prime Minister addressed in a press conference just yesterday.

Extended Border Closure on the Horizon

The closure of the border to non-essential travel has been extended by mutual agreement until August 21st, Prime Minister Trudeau confirmed yesterday. This likely comes as a relief to many Canadians, as polls show the majority of the country would like to see the closure extended for much longer.

A recent Ipsos poll found that over 80% of Canadians favour keeping the closure in place at least through to the end of 2020, and 93% would deem recreational travel to the U.S. ‘too risky’ at the present time, even if it were an option. When speaking about potential future extensions of the border closure and travel, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer Howard Njoo said:

“It will take some time. If I were to travel anywhere, I would stick to Canada for the time being”

Proposed U.S. Student Visa Changes

With summer now being at the midpoint, many are beginning to look toward the fall and the fact that a new school year is quickly approaching. The topic of how best to resume and reopen schools safely is being considered all around the world. For example, in many European countries, schools have tentatively opened with regulations in place to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19. Most Canadian provinces are planning for multiple contingencies, depending on virus numbers as September nears.

Recently, the United States has begun to grapple with the idea of reopening schools for younger students. Post-secondary institutions in the United States have also begun to lay out plans for what reopening will look like for the coming fall semester, with many going fully online or developing a hybrid approach by which students can take a mix of online and in-person classes. However, given a lack of federal guidance, the systems in place will vary from school to school and state to state. Despite the absence of general planning advice, just last week the federal government made an announcement that would greatly impact both universities and students.

On July 6, 2020, United States Immigration and Customs released an update to the exemptions for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. The proposed update would have restricted the ability of international students enrolled in post-secondary institutions to enter the United States or remain in the country if their school transitioned to an online-only model.

Students would instead have to be enrolled in at least one class in person in a so-called ‘hybrid system’ or have all in-person instruction in order to enter or remain in the U.S. under an F-1 or M-1 visa. This proposed change in policy is the latest in the continuing saga of American immigration upheaval in the COVID-19 era and comes in the wake of the recent Green Card ban.

The announcement put many students in a bind. Those enrolled at higher learning institutions that would be switching to online-only instruction as a safety precaution would be deported or barred from entering the U.S.. Further, students who were enrolled at a college that allowed for in-person instruction would have been required to take at least one in-person class to maintain their status in the U.S.. This would have potentially placed students in the position of choosing between being permitted in the United States and their health.

The new regulations faced immediate and widespread backlash, which lead prestigious institutions such as Harvard and MIT to sue the Trump administration over the rule.  On July 14, just over a week after the rule update and following more lawsuits and opposition the rule was rescinded.

The policy would have cost universities millions of dollars in tuition fees and caused significant upheaval in the lives of international students, many of whom remain in the United States in between semesters. The recission of the rule means that the over 1 million international students with student visas will be able to enter or remain in the United States, even if they are doing their full course load online.

If you plan to travel to the United States for any reason, be sure to stay updated, as U.S. immigration policies are constantly changing. If you or your family require assistance with immigration or travel please do not hesitate to contact us.

The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law are continuing to monitor the immigration fallout in relation to COVID-19 on both sides of the border and will provide updates as the situation develops. If you have any questions about your potential classification as essential or about how you should comply with the changing regulations, do not hesitate to reach out to us online or by calling us at 416-321-2860.

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