This story will be updated periodically. Last updated: July 7

International students cannot stay in the country this fall if their college or university operates entirely online, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The ruling sent international students and colleges into turmoil as they struggled to understand the new rules. Some students expressed concern that they would have to attend classes in person, even if they were worried about health risks.

“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,” read a release on Monday from ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

International students attending universities offering a mixture of online and in-person classes in the fall, such as Northeastern University and Boston University will be allowed to take “more than one class or three credit hours online.”

“These schools must certify to SEVP… that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program,” read the release. In that case, students are permitted to stay in the U.S.

International students currently in the U.S. who are solely enrolled in online courses for the fall semester  “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.” If they fail to do so, they could face “removal proceedings”.

It’s unclear how many schools or students around the country are affected. The new rules left them struggling to respond to student questions.

On Wednesday, Northeastern University posted this statement on its Instagram account: “The current pandemic has only underscored the vital importance of global cooperation and collaboration. The new guidance from Homeland Security creates chaos for international students and has the effect of weakening American higher education — one of our nation’s signature strengths. While we believe the hybrid flexible model we have developed at Northeastern will insulate our international students from the pernicious effects of the new rule, we steadfastly oppose this divisive approach.”

The announcement came on the same day that Harvard College announced that all its courses in the fall and spring will be online. However, first-year students and students who have “been approved to return due to inadequate conditions for learning in their home environment, will be invited to return to campus,” the school announced.

Harvard College is one of 14 schools that make up Harvard University.

Each of the schools is making its own plans. 12 have announced that their fall semester will be conducted entirely online.

In the Boston area, UMass Amherst and UMass Boston, as well as graduate programs in Simmons University have also announced that they plan to provide nearly all courses online with the exception of some in-person lab courses in science and nursing.

According to university websites, 10 Greater Boston colleges and universities are planning to hold at least some in-person classes in the fall. Those schools are: Bentley University, Berklee College of Music, Boston College, Boston University, Emerson College, MIT, Northeastern University, Suffolk University, Tufts University, and Wellesley College.

Many of these universities are planning to offer multiple formats of teaching, including Boston University, which has launched their “Learn From Anywhere” framework. According to the school’s announcement, they will offer online, in-person, and asynchronous courses. This ensures that students who will not be able to make it to campus, whether due to a travel ban, issues with getting their visa, or public health concerns, can continue their education remotely, while others can enjoy a semblance of a face-to-face learning experience.

Other schools plan to implement different teaching formats based on the course.. Depending on the necessity for hands-on instruction, some classes may be conducted in person, while others are online or a mixture of the two. For instance, Bentley University announced that their faculty is in the process of deciding the best teaching method for each course. “We anticipate that most classes will be taught remotely. For those courses that still meet in person, classroom capacities will vary depending on the public health guidance,” the school said.

Foreign students will have to wait for correspondence from their respective international offices on how their universities will navigate these new rules from ICE.

Summary Table

Boston Universities’ plans for opening fall 2020 table
University At least some classes in-person in fall Public comments from each university
Bentley University “We are planning a return to campus for students, faculty and staff for the fall 2020 trimester and we are excited to welcome you back.”
Berklee College of Music “This fall, we invite Berklee students to begin or return to their studies in a hybrid model we’re calling Back to Berklee.”
Boston College “Boston College intends to begin the 2020–2021 academic year on Monday, August 31 with on-campus, in-class instruction.”
Boston University “… this fall will mark the launch of a new simultaneous in-person and remote hybrid teaching system called Learn from Anywhere (LfA)…”
Emerson College “This fall, the College will launch One Emerson Flex Learning (…). Most courses will have blended learning: a combination of in-person experiences alternating with synchronous and asynchronous technologies.”
Harvard University “Harvard’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional Schools will be making determinations and announcements about their plans for fall 2020 based on their own unique considerations.”
Harvard Divinity School “HDS will conduct all Fall 2020 courses online.”
Harvard Graduate School of Design “The GSD will continue with remote teaching through the entire Fall 2020 semester.”
Harvard Graduate School of Education “… the best way to provide you with a high-quality learning experience (…) is to focus on a fully online experience during 2020–21.”
Harvard Kennedy School “… the Kennedy School should move forward with exclusively remote teaching and learning this fall.”
Harvard Law School “… we have found it necessary to conclude that Fall Term 2020 will be online.”
Harvard Medical School “… our fall 2020 courses will commence remotely for our entering classes…”
Harvard School of Dental Medicine “… the incoming class of DMD students (…) will start their program with online learning and transition to in-person learning in January. Our rising second-year DMD students (…) will also continue taking online courses until January.”
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health “… we have made the decision to hold courses online during the fall semester (Fall1 and Fall2).”
Harvard Business School “We carefully considered whether shifting to fully remote/online was the right option for HBS, and ultimately decided against it.”
Harvard College “… all course instruction for the 2020-21 academic year will be delivered online.”
Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences “… all course instruction (undergraduate and graduate) for the 2020-21 academic year will be delivered online.”
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences ? “… we are in the process of updating any outdated information.”
Harvard Extension School “All Extension courses through spring 2021 will be hosted online.”
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study “… Radcliffe Institute activities will continue to be virtual.”
MIT “We are inviting back two groups: Rising seniors (…) And a relatively small fraction of other students whose circumstances require special consideration…”
Northeastern University “We will use a hybrid-flexible learning model called NUflex to allow Northeastern to reduce density and to offer flexibility to faculty and students.”
Simmons University ? “… we will move graduate and certificate programs online for the fall, with limited exceptions…”
Suffolk University “Suffolk University is developing a number of plans to address the public health issues associated with in-person teaching this fall…”
Tufts University “We’re getting ready to welcome students this fall in a variety of class formats—including in-person, virtual, a hybrid of the two, or fully remote…”
UMass Amherst “… it is highly likely that most, if not all, of their classes will be conducted remotely. Only essential face-to-face labs, studios, performance, and other courses involving hands-on work will be conducted on campus and in-person.”
UMass Boston “Certain lab courses in the sciences and nursing courses that require the use of the simulation center will remain on campus. The rest of the curriculum will be delivered to you via remote instruction.”
Wellesley College “Faculty are preparing some courses geared specifically toward students living on campus, some for students who will be taking classes remotely, and others that will be available to both groups.”

Featured photo by Yushang Xu on Unsplash