International students will be forced to leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their schools offer classes entirely online this fall, under new guidelines issued by federal immigration authorities.
The guidelines, issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), provide additional pressure for universities to reopen even amid growing concerns about the recent spread of COVID-19 among young adults.
Colleges received the guidance the same day that some institutions, including Harvard University, announced that all instruction will be offered remotely.
Under the updated rules, international students must take at least some of their classes in person. New visas will not be issued to students at schools or programs that are entirely online. And even at colleges offering a mix of in-person and online courses this fall, international students will be barred from taking all their classes online, The Associated Press reports.
It creates an urgent dilemma for thousands of international students who became stranded in the U.S. last spring after the coronavirus forced their schools to move online. Those attending schools that are staying online must “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction,” according to the guidance.
Of particular concern is a stipulation saying students won’t be exempt from the rules even if an outbreak forces their schools online during the fall term.
According to The AP, dozens of colleges have said they plan to offer at least some classes in person this fall, but some say it’s too risky.
Immigration authorities suspended certain requirements for international students early in the pandemic, but colleges were awaiting guidance on what would happen this fall. ICE notified schools of the changes Monday and said a formal rule would be forthcoming.
The announcement was the Trump administration’s latest pandemic-related strike against legal immigration.