The announcement that federal authorities would not issue new student visas, or uphold current ones, for international students attending American schools if they attend online classes doesn’t just impact colleges and universities.
It also affects secondary boarding schools like Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford and Cheshire Academy.
International students at both use the same Student and Exchange Visitor Program visas, which are issued by the U.S. Department of State.
Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced the visas would not be issued to students who are enrolled in schools and programs operating online. The agency said students on the visas would not be able to take a full online course load and remain in the United States. The restrictions state U.S. Customs and Border Protection also will not permit such students to enter the United States.
The agency said the students must leave the country or find programs offering in-person instruction to maintain the lawful status of their visas.
At Cheshire Academy, international students from 31 countries accounted for more than one-third of the school’s total population during the academic year that just ended. Officials announced the school “firmly” opposes the new measures “that limit international student access to schools in the U.S.,” according to a statement posted to the school’s Facebook page.
“We affirm and extend, in the strongest terms, our school’s historic and ongoing welcome and commitment to international students and their families,” the statement said. “Since opening its doors in 1794, Cheshire Academy remains a place of learning for people of all backgrounds and countries...We will work to lessen the burden and impact of restrictions and we stand, as Americans, united with other educational leaders, ready to assist international students, parents, and guardians...”
Cheshire Academy is planning to start the school year with in-person classes, followed by a switch to remote classes after the Thanksgiving break. In-person classes would resume in January.
During the past school year, Cheshire Academy had 344 students. A total of 118 were international students who attended on F-1 visas, one of the visas impacted by the new rules.
Exactly how many students could be impacted this fall won’t be known until mid-August, when enrollment figures are updated, said Michael Torelli, a spokesman for Cheshire Academy.
Torelli, who responded to questions via email, described the situation as “evolving.”
He noted the limitations “might be lifted or changed” because of lawsuits filed by other institutions, including several colleges and universities.
Connecticut is also one of 18 states challenging the visa restrictions.
For now, Cheshire Academy officials anticipate all students attending the school on active F-1 visas will be arriving next month without delay.
“While some of the recent guidelines and changes are confusing, we have been talking and meeting remotely with international families, and our International Student Coordinator and designated school official have been in contact almost daily with parents and students to guide and assist them,” Torelli wrote.
A spokesperson for ICE declined to comment, citing the “pending litigation.”
Meanwhile, officials at Choate Rosemary Hall have also been monitoring the situation.
This past school year, the had 69 students on active F-1 visas, said Alison Cady, the school’s director of strategic planning and communications.
Cady said the new restrictions were announced without any “pre-warning.”
LIke Cheshire Academy, Choate Rosemary Hall is planning to open this fall with a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.
Cady said the plan was built to create the “most flexibility for students.”
“Students might not feel comfortable coming back,” she said.
Choate Rosemary Hall officials will follow Connecticut health guidance regarding 14-day quarantines for traveling students, and other measures to reduce the density of students while at the school.
“We are hoping to get the students all on campus,” Cady said.
Like Torelli at Cheshire Academy, Cady is bracing for other changes in the next month and a half.
“It’s likely to change before we get to September. Our plan is to be as nimble and flexible as we can,” Cady said.