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New rules: Foreign pupils must leave US if classes go online

International students will be forced to leave the United States or transfer to another college if their schools offer classes entirely online this fall, under guidelines issued Monday by federal immigration authorities.

The guidelines, issued by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, provide additional pressure for campuses 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 schools, including Harvard University, announced that all instruction will be offered remotely.

President Trump has insisted schools and universities return to in-person instruction as soon as possible. After the guidance was released, Trump repeated on Twitter schools must reopen this fall.


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.

It creates an urgent dilemma for thousands of students who became stranded in the United States last spring after the coronavirus forced schools to move online. Those attending schools that stay online must “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction,” the guideines say.

Dozens of US colleges have announced plans to provide in-person classes this fall, but some have said it’s too risky. Harvard on Monday said it would invite first-term students to live on campus, but classes will continue to be held online.

“We are deeply concerned that the guidance issued . . . 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,’’ Harvard’s president Lawrence Bacow said in a statement.