BOSTON (CBS) — Foreign students in the United States will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their colleges and universities switch to online-only courses, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday.

The move could impact thousands of students across the county.

“We have over 1 million students in the U.S. that come from other countries and they actually have a $41 billion impact on the U.S. economy. That was the estimation from last year,” said Sarah Spreitzer, the Director of Government Relations for the American Council on Education, a non-profit representing over 1,700 colleges and universities.

“I was in shock. I was like, this can’t be right. It has to be a joke,” said Valeria Mendiola, a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government from Mexico.

Harvard recently made the announcement that all of its fall courses will be held virtually, even though students may be allowed to live on campus.

“What am I going to do with my lease on my apartment? What am I going to do with my furniture? If I go back to Mexico, where am I going to stay?” Mendiola said.

“International students are basically confronted between two choices. Between risking my own health and attending in-person classes or being deported from the U.S.,” said Maya Nasr, a Ph.D. student at MIT.

MIT announced Tuesday that rising seniors will be able to attend in-person classes in the fall semester. A small fraction of other students “whose circumstances require special consideration” may also be included, the University President added.

Nasr worries that if she leaves the country she will not be allowed back in. She also said it would be extremely challenging to take courses online in her home country of Lebanon.

“Right now, Lebanon is passing through an extreme economic crisis. The country is on the brink of famine. We do not have access to basic power, electricity, internet,” she said.

ICE is expected to release further guidance later this week.

Louisa Moller

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