International students taking classes in the U.S. this fall could be deported if their schools switch to online-only learning during the coronavirus pandemic, according to new guidelines released Monday by the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency.
During the spring and summer, the government-run Student and Exchange Visitor program exempted international students from rules requiring enrollment in in-person classes to remain in the country.
On Monday, the program said it would soon issue a temporary final rule that walked back those exemptions for fall 2020. The guidelines come as colleges and universities across the state have begun to announce their plans for fall, most of which do not include fully reopening their campuses.
The California State University and California Community College system have decided to remain online, except for a small number of courses that cannot be taught through distance learning.
According to the guidelines, students with an F1 visa, the most commonly held student visa, cannot remain in the country while taking more than one online course, or three units. Students with M1 visas cannot enroll in any online classes. Hybrid courses are allowed — meaning students will be able to take a course if it’s at least partially taught in-person.
If classes are forced online-only again, which colleges have warned may happen if coronavirus infections surge, students will have to leave the country or transfer to another college that offers in-person classes. Students are allowed to take the online courses in their home country, according to the rule.