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F-M area colleges navigate new ICE rules for international students

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The campus at North Dakota State University as seen March 23, 2020. Forum file photo

FARGO — As colleges throughout the Red River Valley plan for the fall semester, U.S. immigration officials announced changes to guidance on student visas that could impact hundreds of international students in the region.

International students attending schools that shift exclusively online in the fall will not be able to take a full course load and live in the U.S. under United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement's latest guidance on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

At schools that operate exclusively in-person, international students will be bound to existing regulations, which permit them to take a maximum of one course or three credit hours online.

International students at schools using a hybrid of online and in-person classes— such as North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College — will be allowed to exceed that credit limit, university officials said.

NDSU International Student and Study Abroad Services director Alicia Kauffman said her department is working to figure out how the changes will affect the university's international student population.

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Restrictions will be more rigid in the fall, which Kauffman said is a return to past standards.

"The intent is for students here in the U.S. in a program of study to take the majority of their credits in person," she said. "My guess would be that in keeping with the spirit of the federal regulations, SEVP is trying to be flexible while also keeping in mind the intent of those regulations."

MSUM and Concordia College are piecing together the fall's international enrollment in light of the pandemic and the new policy.

"I think the new policy is still in the process of being interpreted both in the courts and how it will apply on campus," said Karl Stumo, Concordia's Vice President of Enrollment and Marketing. "We'll take a wait-and-see approach to determine the implementation of the final policy."

Since Concordia is using a hybrid model in the fall, "there won't be any students who would be exclusively taking online courses, so those students wouldn't be impacted by the new policy," he added.

MSUM is still working to determine each international student's situation, given that many embassies worldwide are closed.

"It's really hit or miss depending on the country," said Kimberly Gillette, director of MSUM's Center for Global Engagement.

"It's those that have to get visas to come back in that I'm more worried about," she continued, adding that new students may not even be able to obtain visas to enter the county.

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Last fall, 619 international students enrolled at NDSU, representing roughly 5% of the student body. At MSUM, Gillette estimated that international enrollment for the fall is currently around 200 students, slightly lower than last year's mark of 250.

Concordia had 80 international students last fall, though Stumo estimates of the 46 who had planned to come to campus, only seven to 10 will ultimately wind up in Moorhead.

Losing a sizable portion of international students would be a significant loss, Stumo said.

"They're an amazing asset to our learning environment," he explained. "Concordia would not be the learning environment it is without the contributions that our international students make to our community."

Thomas Evanella is a reporter for The Forum. He's worked for The Forum for over three years, primarily reporting on business news. He's also the host of the InForum Business Beat podcast, which can be streamed at InForum.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Reach him at tevanella@forumcomm.com or by calling 701-241-5518. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella.
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