Each year, more than a million international students attend US universities and colleges, according to the Institute for International Education, an organization sponsored by the US State Department. They contributed more than $41 billion to the country’s economy last year, according a report published by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

Several universities, including Harvard, MIT, Columbia, and The New School, have said they will be teaching remotely or using a hybrid of online and regular classes during the upcoming academic school year in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said international students on F-1 and M-1 visas would not be allowed to enter the US if their schools programs are fully online in the fall. ICE says there is no need for international students enrolled in institutions that have gone completely online to physically be in the US.

However, critics point out it will be difficult for students abroad to take online classes given different time zones and inconsistent computer and internet access in some places. Countries like China also restrict the use of Google services like Gmail, which many universities have integrated into other online systems.

Harvard and MIT have filed a lawsuit in the US District Court of Massachusetts in response to the order, seeking to block it.

The US had started losing students due to Trump’s restrictive immigration policies even before the decision on student visas. For example, the number of Indian graduate students in US computer science and engineering programs fell by 25% in the 2018-2019 academic year compared to the previous year, according to a report published by NFAP in June. Meanwhile, the number of Indians studying in Canada has grown.

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