NEW YORK (Reuters) - Foreign students in the United States, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, will have to leave the country if their classes are all taught online this fall or if they transfer to another school with in-person instruction, a government agency said.
It was not immediately clear how many student visa holders would be affected by the move, but foreign students are a key source of revenue for many U.S. universities as they often pay full tuition.
China ranked first among countries of origin for international students in the United States with nearly 370,000 during the 2018-2019 academic year, according to data published by the Institute of International Education.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said it would not allow holders of student visas to remain in the country if their school was fully online for the fall. Those students must transfer or leave the country, or they potentially face deportation proceedings, according to the announcement.
The ICE guidance applies to holders of F-1 and M-1 visas, which are for academic and vocational students. The State Department issued 388,839 F visas and 9,518 M visas in fiscal 2019, according to the agency's data.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday that China was closely following the policy changes in the United States and would do everything to protect the rights and interests of Chinese students.
U.S. colleges and universities have begun to announce plans for the fall 2020 semester amid the coronavirus pandemic. Harvard on Monday announced it would conduct course instruction online for the 2020-2021 academic year.
The guidance does not affect students taking classes in person. It also does not affect F-1 students taking a partial online course-load, as long as their university certifies the student's instruction is not completely digital. M-1 vocational program students and F-1 English language training program students will not be allowed to take any classes online.
President Donald Trump's administration has imposed a number of new restrictions to legal and illegal immigration in recent months as a result of the pandemic.
In June, the administration suspended work visas for a wide swath of nonimmigrant workers that it argued compete with U.S. citizens for jobs. The administration has also effectively suspended the admission of asylum seekers at the southern border with Mexico, citing health risks as justification.
(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; additional reporting by Huizhong Wu in Beijing; editing by Ross Colvin, Dan Grebler and Nick Macfie)
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