The U.S. Government says foreign students will not be allowed to remain in the country if their institutions move classes fully online.
In a statement on Monday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said affected students would face “immigration consequences”, including deportation if they failed to comply.
It, however, gave those concerned the option of “transferring to a school with in-person instruction” to retain their lawful status.
The rule, according to the agency, applies to holders of F-1 and M-1 visas, which are issued to academic and vocational students, respectively.
ICE said: “Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online 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 U.S.
“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.
“If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”
It is not clear how many people are affected, but official data show that there were 1.09 million international students in the U.S. as of the 2018/2019 session.
The Institute of International Education (IIE) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs gave the statistics in a 2019 report.
Citing data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the report said foreign students contributed 44.7 billion dollars to the U.S. economy in 2018.
According to the report, there were 13,423 Nigerian students in the U.S. in 2028, contributing 514 million dollars (N184 billion) to the economy.
The ICE announcement comes as some universities, including Harvard, announce plans to move their lectures online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Critics say the latest move is in furtherance of President Donald Trump’s exploitation of the pandemic to limit legal immigration to the U.S.
Already, the Trump administration has suspended migrant visas or green cards for new immigrants.
Recently, the president signed an executive order suspending temporary work visas for skilled workers, managers and au pairs through until the end of the year.