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University of Arizona working to protect international students (and athletes) from new ICE rule

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 29 Women’s UC Riverside at Arizona
Helena Pueyo
Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As if the coronavirus crisis wasn’t enough, college sports has another obstacle in its return to operations.

To combat the spread of the virus, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Monday that international students (and presumably athletes) whose universities switched to online classes for the fall semester will have to leave the United States or risk violating their visa status.

But there is one key exemption (via the ICE website): “Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, ‘Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,’ certifying that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.”

The University of Arizona announced in late April that it is planning to resume in-person classes in the fall, but UA president Robert C. Robbins recently backtracked on that, saying reopening campus amid the surge of coronavirus cases in Arizona wouldn’t be sensible.

However, the UA released a statement Monday in light of the new ICE rule, saying “regardless of whether the broader university is mostly online this fall, we are working to provide safe on-campus, in person courses for international students that will comply with Student Exchange and Visitor Information System requirements, so that you may remain in country.”

That would be critical for several UA athletic programs, including men’s basketball which will have six international players in 2020-21, but just getting them on campus will be a challenge in its own right.

The UA (and every other university) has to navigate an ongoing US travel ban that includes China, Iran, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil and the European Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City).

Right now, the only UA athletes on campus are 83 football players. Only one tested positive for coronavirus, but the UA paused its student-athlete re-entry plan in lieu of the spike of cases in Pima County.