Chinese international students expressed their dissatisfaction and concern over a new US immigration policy which states that if there are no in-person classes they will need to leave the country, although their student record can be maintained.
Experts said the new rule is another battle in the US ahead of the presidential election in November in which the Trump administration is using the students - a major source of revenue for the US education market - as a pawn in the hunt for an election victory.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on July 6 that international students in the US will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only courses.
The authority gave a detailed explanation of the new rule on Tuesday, saying that non-immigration students will not be permitted to enter or remain in the country to attend schools that are entirely online but they are not barred from continuing to attend all classes at these schools from abroad.
If students continue to pursue online studies outside the US, their student records will be maintained, ICE said.
For fear of the COVID-19 pandemic, many US schools have launched online-only courses. However, in response to the new policy, universities are planning to offer more offline learning in the fall semester.
The University of Florida announced Friday its schedule for the upcoming semester, saying students in the US cannot choose online-only learning, instead 80-99 percent of their courses will be online while exams and projects should be offline.
A Chinese student of the university, surnamed Tang, currently in the US, told the Global Times on Sunday that he was worried the US authorities may strip foreign students of their visas and requested them to leave the country, but as updates were given and his university on Friday said it would not insist on online-only courses, he felt some relief.
However, a new concern emerged - he started worrying about his safety and health after the semester begins as the country has reported more than 3 million coronavirus cases.
"Studying offline is quite dangerous as we have to be in contact with many other students," Tang said, noting that he would wear complete protection when he attends school in person.
He expressed his anger over the US administration which appears to speak for human rights and democracy but plays fast and loose with people's lives and safety.
Another Chinese student, surnamed Zhang, who is due to start a Master's degree in the fall semester at Harvard University, told the Global Times that he had just returned to China in late May after finishing his undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins University, and he will study online next semester in China.
According to the US new rule, international students may remain in active Student and Exchange Visitor Information System status while studying online outside the country.
Zhang said he feels safe in China. "International students in the US are suffering from a high risk being infected with COVID-19 and being deported," Zhang said.
Zhang and Tang said many of their friends who are also international students in the US signed an online petition to ask the country to allow them to remain in the US with online-only classes.
The petition started on July 6 with 392,759 signs as of press time.
Ni Feng, deputy director of the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday that the new rule is essentially a battle between the Republicans and Democrats. The Trump administration is striving for work, school and production to resume to boost economic recovery, which is the only way for US President Donald Trump to win in the upcoming presidential election, while the Democratic Party is doing the opposite.
US universities are mostly bases for Democrats so they are offering online learning in support of the Democratic Party.
The new rule is a fight back by the Trump administration which could not only hit the opposite party but also appease xenophobic voters.
The rule reflects that the two parties can fight for election without caring about the national interests, which is a sign of political decay.
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration in federal court on Wednesday, seeking to stop the order that bars international students from staying in the country if they attend US universities that offer online courses only during the pandemic.