International students will not be issued new visas to enter the U.S. if the university they want to attend holds courses entirely online, according to new federal guidelines.

Those on existing visas who wish to remain in the U.S. must transfer to a school with in-person instruction or attend an institution that offers both remote and on-campus learning, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said Monday.

The moves are a setback for universities that have depended heavily on international students — many of whom pay full tuition — to buttress their finances. With students from abroad potentially facing U.S. immigration hurdles, schools are anticipating a decline in enrollment from this group.

The guidelines are “not as favorable as we would have hoped,” said Rachel Banks, senior director for public policy and legislative strategy at Nafsa: Association of International Educators. “It’s more troubling for a continuing student who is here and at a school that’s made a decision or perhaps makes a decision a month from now that they need to be online.”

In March, ICE allowed students to retain visa eligibility as many colleges moved classes entirely online when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The ruling isn’t a good message to send to international students, said Sarah Spreitzer, director of government and public affairs for the American Council on Education, which represents more than 1,700 colleges and trade groups.

“It’s basically saying if all of a sudden your school is going to pivot to all online courses because of another spike in infections, you’d would need to leave the country immediately,” she said.

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