Students currently in the United States enrolled in online programmes must depart the country or take other measures, such as in-person instruction to remain lawfully in the US.
If not, they may face immigration consequences, including visa processing or travel restrictions, the Department of State said in response to new federal guidance on international students.
"The Department of Homeland Security has announced its plan for temporary modifications to F-1 and M-1 non-immigrant visa requirements for the fall 2020 semester. This will allow a mixture of both in-person and some online coursework to meet the requirements for non-immigrant student status. This temporary accommodation provides greater flexibility for nonimmigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses across America," the spokesperson of the State Department said in a statement.
"International students will still have to obtain the appropriate visa and may still be subject to other visa processing or travel restrictions due to COVID-19," the spokesperson added.
For seeking further details, the department said that foreign students should check with the local United States embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.
With universities closed due to the coronavirus pandemic -- many in response to governors' orders -- federal agencies have granted the flexibility to existing requirements that international students must take classes in person.
The major associations of universities had asked federal officials to extend that flexibility into the fall, as the continued spread of coronavirus has led many schools to offer classes online only in an effort to prevent further spread of the disease, as per American media reports.
Monday's announcement requires universities to certify by July 15 whether they will be fully open, operate on a hybrid model or offer online-only classes, The Washington Post reported.
"Now universities have nine days to respond. There is just tremendous concern about trying to protect current students who are members of their communities and their educational investment," Lizbet Boroughs, associate vice president of federal affairs at the Association of American Universities, which represents 63 leading research universities in the United States, was quoted as saying.
The University of Southern California dramatically revised its fall semester plans last week amid an "alarming spike" in cases in the region and intensified restrictions from the governor, recommending undergraduates to take all classes online and reconsider living on or near campus.