In a huge relief for foreign students in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has announced temporary modifications to F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant visa requirements for Fall 2020 semester, which allows a combination of both in-person and some online coursework to meet requirements for non-immigrant student status.

This temporary accommodation provides greater flexibility for non-immigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses across America, the US Department of State said.

However, it cautioned that foreign students will still have to obtain appropriate visa and may still be subject to other visa processing or travel restrictions due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of State further asked these students to check with the local US embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.

In a note headlined, “International Students are Welcome in the US,” the State Department issued the clarification on Tuesday.

“The United States has long been the destination choice of international students, and we are pleased that many international students who had planned to study this Fall in the United States may still have the opportunity to do so,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, the issue of F-1 visa students was raised during India-US Foreign Office Consultations on Tuesday.

The US side took note and said that they will keep the best interests of the students in mind and try and mitigate the impact, sources quoted by news agency ANI had said on the issue of F-1 visa students attending online-only classes in the US.

The United States had on Monday said it would not allow foreign students to remain in the country if all of their classes are moved online this Fall because of the coronavirus crisis.

“Non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States,” the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had said in a statement.

“Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status,” it said.

“If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

The ICE further said the “US Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will US Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

Fall 2020 semester begins early September in the US, immediately after Labor Day weekend. By that time, America’s death toll is projected to have crossed the grim milestone of 170,000, according to at least a couple of predictive models.

The largest number of foreign students come from China, followed by India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada.

There were more than one million foreign students in the United States for the 2018-19 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE).

That accounted for 5.5 percent of the total US higher education population, the IIE said, and international students contributed $44.7 billion to the US economy in 2018.