In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a surprising new U.S. directive emerged this week. It imposes new requirements for student visas and threatens the visa status of many international students, including numerous Lebanese students.
The directive, announced by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), threatens to end the legal status of international students whose courses are all online.
It requires foreign students to attend at least some of their registered fall courses in-person. Otherwise, they will be forced to leave the country after the directive goes into effect.
As a result, Lebanese students holding F-1 and M-1 visas enrolled in U.S. universities and colleges that have no plans to offer “physical” classes are at great risk of being deported.
This comes in a time when at least 9% of American higher education institutions are opting to switch to online courses in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to EducationUSA of the US Embassy in Lebanon, there is over 1,486 Lebanese studying in the U.S. However, this number could be higher if we are to consider the Lebanese who obtained their U.S. student visas while studying in other countries.
As a result of the relatively ambiguous order, which goes into effect on July 15th, Lebanese students have been cast into a state of confusion and uncertainty as they weigh their limited options in the midst of their degree programs.
One of these options, aside from the extremely difficult one of suddenly transferring to another university, would be the preposterous one of leaving all the progress behind and returning to Lebanon.
“I am in the third year of my Ph.D. program and going back to Lebanon when it’s falling apart right now is just not an option,” a Lebanese student at the City University of New York told Middle East Eye.
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, many parents are struggling to transfer funds to their children studying in the U.S. and other countries due to the dollar crisis.