MISSOULA — International students attending the University of Montana could be forced to leave the country this fall if the flagship institution is forced to revert to online only instruction due to COVID-19.
The Trump administration this week said international students attending U.S schools who switch to online classes will be required to leave or risk violating their visa status. At least part of their courses must take place in person if they wish to stay.
Changes to the Student Exchange Visitor Program, or SEVP, has the potential to impact around 150 international students at the University of Montana, according to Donna Anderson, the school’s senior international officer and director global engagement.
“We are hoping the guidance will be reversed in order to minimize potential impact to international students at UM in the event that UM needs to switch to fully online/remote classes mid-semester due to COVID-19,” Anderson told the Missoula Current. “UM currently plans to return to face-to-face instruction for the fall 2020 semester.”
Montana’s public universities, including UM and Montana State, moved to online-only instruction during the onset of the pandemic in late March to help slow the spread of coronavirus on campus and in communities surrounding the schools.
In May, however, the University of Montana said it would return to classroom teaching this fall. At the time, Sarah Swager, vice provost of student success, said the school was “working with various groups on campus to provide the safest environment possible.”
Health experts fear that a second surge of the virus could take shape this fall.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program permitted foreign students to take their spring and summer courses online while staying in the U.S. as a response to the coronavirus emergency.
But that changed on Monday when the U.S. Department of State said it will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools or programs that are fully online for the fall semester, nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit such students to enter the United States.
“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 or potentially face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” the agency said.
Students that attend schools with a hybrid model – a mix of both online and in-person classes – will be allowed to take more than one class online. However, those schools must certify that the program is not entirely online.