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Fall 2021 students – International students leaving country for online classes | ICE Ruling

By July 11, 2020April 29th, 2021No Comments

Recently, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a ruling that International students would be required to leave the country or transfer universities to maintain F1 status if their universities offer only online classes in Fall 2020 (scheduled to start in August/September 2020).

We have received a number of questions from students applying to the US for Fall 2021 on the impact of this ruling on them and so wanted to address their questions in this article. In the below section, we will answer some frequently asked questions and outline our recommendations for Fall 2021 prospects.

Why has the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued this ruling?

This is an election year in the US. With the elections around the corner (November 2020), President Trump has been pushing for the country (states as well as schools and universities) to open up. At a recent White House event, he criticized universities that were planning to offer only online classes as a precautionary measure for Fall 2020.

This is seen by many as a move by President Trump to pressurize universities into opening up. This is seen as a move to push a faster opening up of the economy and show normalcy before the elections in November 2020.

Different universities have announced different approaches to opening up. Some universities are taking a hybrid approach with a mix of in-person classes and online courses. Others like Harvard University and the University of Southern California were planning to go completely online this fall as a precautionary measure.

It is to be noted that the ICE ruling is only for Universities that are going completely online for Fall 2020. Those Universities that are offering courses in a hybrid model are not affected by this.

Can this ruling by the ICE be challenged?

Yes, the ruling can be challenged. The beauty of the justice system in the United States is that one can challenge rulings that are found to be unfair to even non-US citizens.

Top universities like Harvard, MIT, and Northeastern have filed a lawsuit against the government to block the order. The University of California has also announced this week that they are planning to file a lawsuit against the government for “violating the rights of the university and its students”.

We expect that with top universities filing lawsuits and criticizing the move by the ICE, there should probably be some relief that the courts will provide to International students in Universities who are going completely online for Fall 2020.

Does this affect me as a Fall 2021 applicant to the USA?

As an applicant for Fall 2021(starting 13 months from now), this ruling does not impact you. This particular ruling mainly impacts those students who are currently studying in the USA specifically in Universities that have decided to go completely online this fall. This does not impact Universities that are offering courses in a hybrid format (some contact classes and some online courses)

As a Fall 2021 aspirant, we recommend that you continue with your application process as you have time (13 months) on your hand before the semester starts. Scholarship deadlines are usually in December and so continue to make progress on your applications.

We had recently written an article that Fall 2021 offers a unique opportunity for Indian students (especially STEM graduates) in the wake of the worsening relations between the USA and China.

We still believe in this opportunity and recommend that students apply to give themselves options. Options are important especially also in the wake of a worsening economy in India. We expect job opportunities for fresh college graduates to be significantly impacted over the next year. 

Students can always defer their admissions later if they decide not to go later for some reason. However, they do not have that option if they do even apply to Universities. With GDP expected to contract significantly, doing an MS/Ph.D. provides a great opportunity for students to upskill and ride out a potential bad economy at home.

As mentioned earlier, the current ruling seems to be more a way to pressurize universities to open fully in Fall 2020 in an effort to re-open the US economy.

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Do not get distracted by the politics of an election year in the US. US-India relations will continue to strengthen to counter China

Fall 2021 students do not get distracted by the short term politics of an election year. The US still has some of the world’s best universities and is the largest economy in the world. It also has one of the largest requirements for STEM graduates.

No wonder, US universities attract over a million STEM graduate students every year, of whom, at 154,000 graduating students a year, Indians comprise the 2nd largest group (the 1st being Chinese students, at 162,000) in the years 2017 to 2018.

Irrespective of the outcome of the election, we expect that the US-India relationship will continue to strengthen in an alliance to counter China’s growing influence. Some of the current events are more short term activities targeting the November 2020 election. 


Irrespective of which party comes to power in the November 2020 election (Republicans or Democrats), we expect that the US-India alliance will continue to strengthen which is good for Indian students. In the current administration under the Republicans, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has backed India in the recent border clash. He has also backed India’s decision to ban Chinese apps. President Trump has also backed India versus China in the recent standoff. If the Republicans win the election, we will continue to see the strengthening of ties between India and the US as President Trump tries to counter China. 

President Trump also recognizes the value that international students from good universities in the US bring to the US economy. He has talked in the past on a new points-based Green Card system in 2019 favouring skills versus just family relations to try and retain graduates from top universities.

He has also talked about a “Build America ” visa with references in his speech on trying to retain foreign graduates from good universities. In the absence of such a system, he had mentioned that qualified candidates were leaving the US to start successful companies in their home countries. The focus on skilled graduates will be good for international students graduating from good US universities.

ICE Ruling | International students in USA 1

If the Democrats under Joe Biden win the election, that too will bode well for international students applying from India. Joe Biden has already talked about strengthening the US-India relationship if elected. He also talked about rolling back the temporary H1B ban if elected.

So, irrespective of which party is elected, India stands to gain from the strengthening US-India relationships. Currently, the US fills a lot of its STEM needs with graduates from India and China. With expected stricter scrutiny on China, we believe that Indian STEM graduates can play a key role in meeting the US’s STEM requirements.

So, our advice to Fall 2021 applicants, stay on track with your test prep and application preparation, and do not get distracted by the short term politics of an election year. 

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