As the coronavirus pandemic forces colleges nationwide to assess the risks of bringing students back to campus in the fall, the fate of thousands of international students could be hanging in the balance.

On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students pursuing degrees in the U.S. will have to leave the country under the threat of deportation if their university switches to online-only classes. ICE’s release says that the State Department will not issue visas to any student taking a fully online course load, and if in-person classes are not an option at a certain university, it recommends that students who wish to remain in the country transfer to a school that offers them.

Though visa requirements have always been strict, and online-only courseloads have always been prohibited for international students coming to the U.S., ICE’s move to more-or-less ignore the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic still caught many education officials by surprise. Particularly as travel restrictions worldwide make it potentially difficult for those with visas to return home, the policy decision will force plenty of students to scramble for a solution.

“We think this is going to create more confusion and more uncertainty,” Brad Farnsworth, vice president of the American Council on Education, told CNN. “What we were hoping to see was more appreciation for all the different possible nuances that campuses will be exploring.”

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