Here is the Wall St Journal’s take on the new rules.

New Rules Detail How Foreign Students Can—and Can’t—Take Classes at U.S. Colleges This Fall 

Long-awaited guidance says some won’t be able to take classes entirely online 

Harvard University said Monday it will bring some students back to campus this fall, but offer most instruction online even for those who return in person.

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International students can’t take all their classes online if their college offers a mix of on-campus and remote classes, according to new guidelines from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as Harvard University and others laid out their plans for the fall. 

The guidance issued Monday by ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program varies depending on whether a school is offering classes entirely online, in person or a mix of the two. The eagerly awaited plans include a host of different instructions that will allow some students on campus, keep others learning remotely and make it impossible for still others to return to the U.S. 

Harvard University and Princeton University said Monday they will bring some students back to campus this fall, but offer most instruction online even for those who return in person. Harvard will have first-year students and some others on campus, up to 40% of the total undergraduate population. If the pandemic remains a threat and the school wants to keep density low in the spring, seniors will get priority. Princeton is inviting first-year students and juniors to campus in the fall and sophomores and seniors in the spring. 

Other schools have laid out a range of plans for the fall term, from telling students to just stay home and take their classes online to laying out expectations that everyone who can should come back to campus for at least some in-person courses. 

The coronavirus pandemic has completely disrupted higher education, prompting schools to reimagine how to set up campuses, how to teach and how to manage their increasingly unpredictable and tight budgets. 

U.S. colleges have been racing to figure out options for keeping international students enrolled even if they can’t make it to campus, as many are held up by visa processing delays and travel restrictions. At some schools, upward of 15% of the population hails from overseas, and those students often account for an even higher share of tuition revenue.

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ICE won’t allow students to enter the country if they are attending a school that is only teaching courses online, but they may take the full load of online classes from their home country.

If students are already in the U.S. and classes are being taught completely online, they can transfer to another school with face-to-face instruction or leave the country.

When schools are offering a hybrid option, with large lectures online and seminars still meeting face-to-face, foreign students on visas must be on-site at the U.S. campus to take a full course load. Foreign students can’t take all their classes online from afar if hybrid instruction is available. 

That requirement for in-person attendance at schools offering such instruction could be problematic for many students. U.S. consulates around the world have paused nearly all routine visa processing, meaning those who were accepted into programs in the spring haven’t been able to schedule the required in-person interviews to be issued their visas. Typically, a student can’t enter the U.S. on a valid visa after a program’s start date.

And even if they have visas already, students from China, Brazil and most of Europe also may not be able to return to the U.S. if coronavirus-related travel restrictions aren’t lifted in time for the fall semester.

Allowing students to take their classes online while overseas creates other challenges, too: A noon class at a school on the East Coast would be at midnight in Shanghai, so schools must decide whether to teach synchronously or allow overseas students to watch recorded lectures. 

Write to Melissa Korn at