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International Students Who Take Only Online Courses This Fall Cannot Stay in the US, ICE Says

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  • On Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it will not issue visas to prospective and current international students who will only be taking online courses during the upcoming fall semester.
  • That’s despite the fact that many colleges around the country are integrating online-only models because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Many international students now fear they could be deported and worry about how they might be able to return home with current travel restrictions. 

International Students Could Face Possible Deportation

The federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program has announced that it will not allow international students to remain in the country for the upcoming fall semester if they enroll in online-only universities or colleges. 

SEVP, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, made the announcement Monday after education institutions had asked the agency for months to extend grace periods for international students into the fall.

It was not unprecedented to think that SEVP might. It had already allowed international students to shift to online classes for the spring semester when much of the U.S. began to shut down. Those eased restrictions then carried into summer semesters.

Prior to those semesters and under normal rules, international students were required to take classes in-person and could only take a maximum of three credit hours (usually one course) online.

With daily COVID-19 cases increasing in most states, some institutions have already announced that they will be foregoing in-person classes in the fall. Despite this, ICE has argued that “there is a need to resume the carefully balanced protections implemented by federal regulations.”

“The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States,” SEVP said in its Monday statement.

“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. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

“If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.”

Notably, that announcement also requires universities to make a decision by July 15 on whether they plan to fully open, implement a hybrid system, or become online-only

“What is just, to me, absolutely staggering is we have been asking for this guidance since April,”  Lizbet Boroughs, an executive with the Association of American Universities, told The Washington Post.

Boroughs added that universities now have “nine days to respond. There’s just tremendous concern about trying to protect current students who are members of their communities and their educational investment. ”

Questions Linger About How This Will Take Effect

Online, many international students have spoken out about the announcement, with some even sharing links to petition letters to send to congressional representatives.

“And I thought the cancelled flights, stress of finding last minute summer housing, not being able to see my mom for over a year would be enough,” one person tweeted. “With no support system, in the middle of a pandemic, this is all that was missing.”

“I regret coming here for a better education,” another person said on Twitter. “It’s so cruel to uproot lives in the middle of a pandemic over reasons entirely beyond our control. Everything is so uncertain and I’ve never felt less like a human being.”

The announcement has also led to a flurry of unanswered questions from students and others involved in higher education. For example, students at schools that have already announced online-only semesters for the fall have been left to wonder whether those schools will quickly revise their plans. 

Last week, you had the University of Southern California announced that almost all of its undergraduate fall courses will be held online. Monday, just hours before ICE’s announcement, Harvard announced that all of its courses for the full academic year will be taught online as well. 

In fact, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, of about 1,100 U.S. colleges being tracked, 9% plan to operate online, and 24% have proposed a hybrid model. 

ICE has confirmed that students planning to enroll in schools with hybrid models will be allowed to take more than three credit hours online if institutions file certifications with the agency. Still, tons of students are scared their visas will be revoked or not approved if their schools don’t revise plans to accommodate them.

Following ICE’s announcement, Harvard University President Larry Bacow called the move a one-size-fits-all approach and suggested that the university might update its online-only policy.

“We will work closely with other colleges and universities around the country to chart a path forward,” Bacow said in a statement Monday evening.

Others worry about the negative impact ICE’s move could have on graduate students who conduct research and teach classes

“If their labs close and they’re not able to work full time on dissertation research… do they have to leave the country?” Boroughs asked in her interview with The Post. “We know there are many PhD candidates who are involved in critical research to respond to this covid pandemic. ”

Even if students are denied visas, many wonder how they will be able to return home. An array of countries currently have travel restrictions, some of which even apply to those with students visas.

Value of Having International Students

Advocates for extending flexibilities for international students into the fall semester have argued that they are a vital asset to American campuses.

According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, during the 2018-2019 academic year, international students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy and supported almost 460,000 jobs.

They are also not part of a small or insignificant group. According to federal data, 1.1 million people in the U.S. hold active student visas.

That’s why people like immigration lawyer Fiona McEntee have argued that losing foreign students would be a huge blow to university budgets. 

“If students can study online successfully from an academic point of view, why are we forcing them to come into a situation where they could put their health at risk and also the health of their classmates at risk?” she asked.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CBS News)

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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