As Georgia college classes go online, some international students could lose visas

ATLANTA — There’s academic uncertainty for thousands of international college students in metro Atlanta, with the pandemic leaving the fall semester up in the air.

The Department of State said this week it won’t issue visas for students taking classes fully online.

Channel 2 Anchor Lori Wilson talked with Terry Hartle from the American Council on Education about what that could mean for the economy.

“For a long time, the rule has been you had to study full-time and you had to be in an in-person program,” Hartle said. “In March, when college is suddenly closed, the Department of Homeland Security said, ‘We understand as a result, for the time being, we will allow international students to remain in good standing if they study full time, and even if they are in online programs.’”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Tuesday that by July 15, colleges and universities would have to outline their plans for reopening in the fall.

Students with international visas would have to be in an in-person program if they were allowed to stay in the country.


Under the new guidelines, students who are not in an in-person program either have to transfer to another institution or leave the country

“This represents, sort of, quite a change in the policy that the government has been following since March, and we think it’s deeply problematic,” Hartle said.

Hartle said that for students who find themselves in that situation, there's not a lot they can do.

"I suspect it's going to be fairly controversial," Hartle said. "And I think, as hard as it is for me to say this, students who might be in that position where they are simply going to have to sit tight."

Most of the people who will be affected by the change are students who are already in the U.S. Most U.S. embassies and consulates haven't been interviewing students to grant them international visas

Wilson pointed out that international students pump $45 million into the economy, so the change would have a huge impact economically.

“It’s an important matter for colleges, universities, it’s obviously an important matter for students, and frankly it’s an important matter for the United States,” Harkle said. “It is in our country’s interest to be the destination of choice for the world’s best students and scholars.”

Visas for international students have always been hard to obtain, and they’ve never been allowed for online-only students.