International students studying in the U.S. must leave the country or switch schools if they attend a university that will hold classes entirely online this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, government officials said Monday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the measure as cases of the virus continue to surge in most states around the country and many colleges and universities are still figuring out how or if they can reopen for the fall term.
“Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status,” the agency said Monday, noting the shift applies to F-1 and M-1 visa holders. “If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
The change will not impact international students who take classes in person, but students at online-only schools that fail to leave or transfer may be deported.
It’s unclear how many students the change could impact, or at what schools. Harvard made headlines this week after it said all course instruction for the 2020-21 academic year would be conducted online, although some students will be allowed to live on campus. The Verge reports schools must notify the Student and Exchange Visitor Program by July 15 if they will go entirely online, or by August 1 if they plan to use a hybrid model of online and in-person teaching.
International students at hybrid schools can remain in the country as long as they have a certain number of in-person classes.
NBC News notes international students make up 5.5 percent of the higher education population, or about 1.1 million students. Many schools rely on the fees paid by foreign students, who often pay full tuition.
The Trump administration has continued to limit legal immigration and access to visas during the pandemic. The White House has moved to raise the bar for asylum seekers hoping to seek protection in the U.S. and also banned many categories of foreign workers through the end of the year.
Many technology companies railed against Trump’s decision to restrict work visas last month, saying they will have difficulty hiring the thousands of skilled workers that come to the U.S. each year for specialized jobs.
“President Trump’s latest proclamation uses the COVID-19 pandemic as justification for limiting immigration,” Facebook said last month. “In reality, the move to keep highly skilled talent out of the U.S. will make our country’s recovery even more difficult.”