If US universities decide to move their classes fully online this autumn, foreign students will be asked to leave the country unless they switch to courses with in-person tuition. If the students don't comply with the rules, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could deport them, according to reports. This comes at a time when universities are moving to online classes owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This move is certain to affect thousands of foreign students, say experts. However, the exact number is not known. Even those studying non-academic or vocational courses will be affected. Foreign students are also a significant source for university revenue.

Online Learning
Representational Picture Wikimedia Commons

Harvard University announced that all courses will be instructed online as the new academic year begins. This applies even to those who live at the university.

ICE runs a Student and Exchange Visitor Program and had permitted foreign students to go on with their spring and summer 2020 courses online while remaining in the country.

Students Could Face Consequences

The announcement also said that foreign students remaining in the US pursuing their online courses could face "immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings," if they don't switch to in-person courses.

However, there is an exception for universities with a hybrid model, practicing a mix of online and in-person classes.

Visa requirements for students are also strict and those coming to the US for only online courses are prohibited.

Criticism

Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that many countries have travel restrictions and students won't be able to go back. "So what do they do then?" she questioned, calling it a "conundrum" for many students, reports CNN.

Harvard University's President Larry Bacow said that the University was "deeply concerned" about the new guidance issued by the ICE. He called it a "blunt, one-size-fits-all approach" as it poses a problem for international students, especially those in online programs who had fewer options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools.

The announcement applies to those with F-1 and M-1 visas, issued for academic and vocational students. About 388,839 F visas and 9,518 M visas were issued by the ICE in 2019. US Commerce Department data shows that international students contributed $45 billion to the country's economy in 2018, reported BBC.