ROCKVILLE, MD - The Biophysical Society (BPS), composed of more than 7,500 members worldwide, believes the recent modifications to temporary exemptions to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) for F-1 and M-1 student visas fall drastically short of the mark.
In March, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued appropriate exemptions for F-1 and M-1 student visa holders to continue their education and remain in the US during the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, the updated exemptions issued on July 6 leave non-immigrant students lawfully invited into the country with a precarious choice between health and education. Under the new rule, students at academic institutions not yet ready to resume in-person classes (either full-time or as part of a hybrid model) must either leave the country or find a way to enroll in another SEVP approved university mere weeks before the start of the fall semester.
The issuance of these new exemptions just as universities are beginning course registration and enrollment for the fall semester leaves students and academic institutions risking health, well-being and financial expense in order to continue an education ICE and the US had already sanctioned by issuing non-immigrant student visas. As we continue to see surges in COVID-19 infection rates around the US, it is short-sighted for ICE to issue regulations that mandate F-1 and M-1 students return to in-person courses whether or not the state or academic institution has determined it is safe to do so, thereby acting as a de-facto rescission of a valid education visa while the country is still in the midst of a pandemic.
"Even in the absence of this cruel measure by ICE, the targeted students will be affected for years to come by the current pandemic. Enforcement of this measure will cause further needless disruption of their lives and plans," states Catherine A. Royer, BPS President. "I fail to see any rationale for such a move, other than a general desire to limit immigration of any sort. The consequences of this move will be terrible for the students themselves, but also for the great universities of this country who benefit enormously from the creativity, intelligence and enthusiasm of these students."
BPS calls upon the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and Congress to pause this interim rule before the start of the fall semester. We urge the agencies and Congress to take immediate and urgent steps to create a fourth exemption allowing students currently enrolled in a US academic institution under F-1 and M-1 visas to continue taking a full course load online until their institution moves to full in-person or hybrid models of education when safe and appropriate.