International students who are pursuing degrees in the United States will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only courses, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced.
The move may affect thousands of foreign students who come to the United States to attend universities or participate in training programs, as well as non-academic or vocational studies, CNN reported.
Universities nationwide are beginning to make the decision to transition to online courses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. At Harvard, for example, all course instruction will be delivered online, including for students living on campus. For international students, that opens the door to them having to leave the US.
In a news release on Monday, ICE said students who fall under certain visas “may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States,” adding, “The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.”
The agency suggested that students currently enrolled in the US consider other measures, like transferring to schools with in-person instruction. There’s an exception for universities using a hybrid model, such as a mix of online and in-person classes.
Brad Farnsworth, vice president of the American Council on Education, said the announcement caught him and many others by surprise.