International Students and Online Courses

We are Gehi & Associates. We are NYC/Queens/Brooklyn/Manhattan/Bronx/Staten Island immigration lawyers. We are here to serve our NYC/Queens/Brooklyn/Manhattan/Bronx/Staten Island communities. We do bankruptcy, family/divorce, immigration and all forms of law. Please come to one of our Queens offices. Email us at info@gehilaw.com to set up your free initial personal consultation.

COVID-19 has drastically altered the way in which schooling operates. Many students who were used to and enjoyed their in-person classes are now sitting in their pajamas at home on zoom, instead of in the classroom. This is the case at all levels of education, from those in earliest childhood, up to the graduate school level.

During this crisis there have been countless threats against the status of international students in the United States. Some of them have been quite serious, such as the potential deportation of all international students who are in universities that are operating fully online.

Despite the growing number of COVID-19 cases, and the ever present danger of the virus, the Trump administration has continuously pushed schools to reopen for in-person classes. This has been for almost purely political reasons. Which is to say, many Americans simply want a return to normalcy. This is, understandable, but almost all of the medical scientists who understand the current pandemic advise against this. Indeed, there will almost certainly be no such return to normalcy until a vaccine is available. The earliest projections for such a vaccine is January 2020. So we have quite a ways to go when it comes to returning to normal. We cannot simply ignore the fact that there is a pandemic that kills immuno-compromised individuals at a rapid level.

Yet, the president and his administration seem to think they can ignore such facts. Pandemic-fatigue has kicked in and many people are very fed up with being at home, out of work, and alone. We got comfortable in the ordinary world, and we desperately want that back –even though for health reasons, the worst thing we can do at the moment is go back to how everything was prior to the outbreak.

In an effort to force schools to reopen for in-person classes, Trump gave the nation a profoundly unjust ultimatum. In early July 2020, President Trump signed an executive order that mandated that international students of schools that are fully online will lose their visa status and will be deported. Of course, this drew outrage, but it was a profoundly serious ultimatum. On the one hand, many schools –Harvard, for example– already vowed to keep classes fully online at least for the fall 2020 semester. On the other hand, institutions like NYU have made it clear that they will be going back to business as usual in the fall 2020 semester –i.e. In-person classes. Thus, for many international students, the future looked dim and confused. This got even more complicated for students who were below the university level, who were also entailed in this policy. Which is to say, students who are children would be deported and stripped of their visa status if their schools remained online. This was for many people, of course, terrifying

The backlash to this policy was –rightly– immense. Several states and universities collectively sued the federal government for this unjust policy. Swiftly, the response from the federal government was to completely walk back this policy. Which is to say, if you are an international student in the United States, you will not be deported or lose your visa status if your school remains online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, this is a relief. However, many international students reacted quicker than others to the initial policy. While many students simply stayed put and hoped that their school would simply make the adjustments to hybrid and/or in-person courses, others made plans to go back home.

If you fall into the latter category, you might be helped by the fact that you can be refunded for travel expenses. For instance, if you have purchased plane tickets to go back home, you can get a refund for them –and in some instances, you do not have to pay a fee for such a refund (as many travel expenses are entitled “non-refundable”). For instance, you can get a refund on your plane tickets within 24 hours of making a purchase. So if you have made a purchase of a plane ticket to go home and you have done so within the last 24 hours, you can still get a refund without a charge! In other cases, however, you might have to pay a fee to cancel your flight. However, keep this in mind: the cancelation fee is much better than paying the costs of losing your visa status and/or being deported. It might cost you $200 to cancel your flight home, but it would have potentially cost you your life to have to go back home. That is certainly a worthy wager. The residence of this policy was a big win for immigration: Trump and his administration have time and time again looked for any opportunity to deport people and take away the rights of immigrants –legal or illegal. In this instance, the public stepped up and said “no” and won. It was a magnificent thing to behold and we ought to be proud as a nation to have stood up for our students and their rights to get educated in this country.

In sum: international students, do not fear. While COVID-19 might be impairing your studies by forcing you to take classes online, you will not be deported for something that is not your fault. If you’re an international student, and are in the United States for school, you are here to stay insofar as you are a student –and for most of you, by the time COVID is over, you will very likely be eligible for some form of a work permit or visa. International students should feel safe in saying that they can stay in the U.S. for the long-haul.

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We are Gehi & Associates. We are NYC/Queens/Brooklyn/Manhattan/Bronx/Staten Island immigration lawyers. We are here to serve our NYC/Queens/Brooklyn/Manhattan/Bronx/Staten Island communities. We do bankruptcy, family/divorce, immigration and all forms of law. Please come to one of our Queens offices. Email us at info@gehilaw.com to set up your free initial personal consultation.

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