International students will be forced to leave the country or face deportation if the universities they are enrolled in transition to online-only classes, CNN reports.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the new policy on Monday.
The move could affect thousands of foreign students.
The policy comes as colleges decide whether to resume in-person instruction in the fall as coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket across the US.
Harvard, for example, announced that all of its classes will be held online, possibly resulting in them having to leave the country.
Feds won’t issue new visas:
ICE said that students on certain visas "may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.”
"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 said.
Announcement stuns colleges:
"We think this is going to create more confusion and more uncertainty," Brad Farnsworth of the American Council on Education told CNN. "What we were hoping to see was more appreciation for all the different possible nuances that campuses will be exploring."
"The bigger issue is some of these countries have travel restrictions on and they can't go home, so what do they do then?" added Theresa Cardinal Brown of the Bipartisan Policy Center. "It's a conundrum for a lot of students."
Harvard President Larry Bacow said on Monday that "we are deeply concerned that the guidance issued today by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposes a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools."
He said the policy "undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programs while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic."