Daily US Times: The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said foreign students will not be allowed to stay in the US this autumn if their universities have moved classes fully online unless they switch to a course with in-person tuition.
People could face deportation if they do not comply with the rules, ICE said. It is not clear how many students will be affected by the new rule.
Due to this coronavirus pandemic, many universities are moving classes online.
Every year, large numbers of foreign students travel to the US to study and they are a significant source of revenue for universities as many of them pay full tuition.
Harvard has announced all course instruction will be delivered online when students return for the new academic year, including those living at the university.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which is run by ICE, had previously permitted foreign students to continue with their spring and summer 2020 courses online while remaining in the country.
But Monday’s announcement said foreign students who remain in the US while enrolled in online courses and fail to switch to in-person courses could face “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings”.
The rule applies to holders of M-1 and F-1 visas, which are for vocational and academic students.
ICE issued a statement on Monday, saying “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.”
Foreign students contributed $45 billion (£36 billion) to the country’s economy in 2018, according to the US Commerce Department.
Brad Farnsworth, vice president of the American Council on Education, said the announcement caught him and many others by surprise.
He said this is going to create more confusion and more uncertainty.
Visa requirements for students have always been strict and coming to the US to take online-only courses has been prohibited.
Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said: “These are not some fly-by-night universities, these aren’t scams, these are legit universities who would normally have in-person curricula but for coronavirus.”
Mr Brown said they will work closely with other colleges and universities around the country to chart a path forward.