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The federal government is telling international students that they need to leave the country or transfer if their college or university doesn’t plan to reopen for in-person instruction this fall.
While the new regulation from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement means uncertainty for some foreign students over where they’ll be when classes resume, the impact should be limited in Maine as long as the colleges that have announced their plans to reopen campus don’t change course.
“No international students in our system should lose any sleep over this,” said Dannel Malloy, chancellor of the University of Maine System. “We’re going to have in-classroom learning experiences, and there’s no doubt in my mind that we can make sure that international students have courses in person.”
The University of Maine System last week announced plans to reopen its seven universities and law school for the fall semester, though the in-person portion of the semester will end just before Thanksgiving. The plans for reopening campuses include a return to in-person classes with options for online learning for those who prefer it, and larger classes moved online to prevent large gatherings.
That means the approximately 620 University of Maine System international students will not have to leave the country this fall, Malloy said. When Maine’s university campuses shut down in March, some international students remained in campus residence halls.
The ICE regulation allows foreign students to take some of their classes online and remain in the country, though their schools would have to certify to the federal government that the students’ programs aren’t entirely online. Immigration authorities had given international students more flexibility to take online classes because of the coronavirus pandemic, but only for the spring and summer, according to NPR.
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Many Maine colleges have released plans for reopening campuses in recent weeks, with only Bowdoin and Unity colleges standing out for not welcoming students back to campus.
Bowdoin College will only reopen its Brunswick campus to first-year and transfer students in the fall, as well as those unable to attend online classes, senior honors students with approved projects and student residential life staff.
Doug Cook, a Bowdoin spokesman, said college administrators are discussing the new ICE rules with lawyers and will meet soon to decide what to do.
Unity College will remain fully online for the 2020-21 school year. However, all of the college’s 10 international students currently are enrolled in online-only programs. Those students wouldn’t be affected by the ICE rule, said Joel Crabtree, a Unity spokesman.
The ICE rules apply to students who come to the U.S. for higher education using an F-1 visa and those pursuing vocational coursework on an M-1 visa, and they apply to students already enrolled in U.S. institutions as well those who are planning to start in the fall. Those newcomers would not be allowed to enter the country if their college remains fully online.
New foreign students should not have trouble coming to Maine to attend a public university, said Malloy, the University of Maine System chancellor.
BDN writer Nick Schroeder contributed to this report.