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ICE bans new international students enrolled in online-only classes from entering U.S.

U.S. COVID-19 cases surpass 4 million
U.S. surpasses 4 million confirmed coronavirus cases 02:52

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on Friday that international students who plan to solely enroll in online classes this fall will be barred from entering the country. The announcement came as the U.S. topped 4 million coronavirus cases and as colleges and universities roll out plans to shift to online learning for the fall semester.

"Nonimmigrant students in new or initial status after March 9 will not be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online," ICE said in its press release.

The department also mandated that designated school officials are not to provide new international students with an I-20 form that declares their legal student status. This guidance includes new international students who are outside of the U.S. and want to take online-only classes at an education institution that is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

ICE has tried to enact similar guidance earlier this summer, saying international students attending schools who switch to online-only learning this fall would have had to either transfer schools, leave the country or possibly be deported. The department rescinded that guidance on July 14.

Now, international students who "were actively enrolled" at a school in the U.S. on March 9 will not be affected by Friday's guidance, ICE said.

As of November, there were more than 1 million international students in the U.S., according to the Institute of International Education.

Out of more than 1,250 colleges in the U.S., 12% are switching to an online-only model this fall, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has been tracking college's plans for the upcoming semester. The University of California, Clemson University, Harvard University and Princeton University are among the colleges moving online.

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance for how colleges and universities should approach the upcoming semester. The lowest risk option for spreading coronavirus, according to the CDC, is for schools to "engage in virtual-only learning options, activities, and events," and for residence halls to be closed, where feasible.

College students weigh costs of online classes or pausing their education during the pandemic 05:37

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has roughly doubled since the beginning of June, according to data monitored by Johns Hopkins University. College-age students — those between the ages of 18 and 29 — make up roughly 21% of cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.

ICE's announcement on Friday was met with criticism.

In a tweet, the American Civil Liberties Union said that the Trump administration "is exploiting the pandemic to target immigrant youth," and that the new policy will "disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of students." The organization said Congress "must investigate" the ban.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy described ICE's announcement as an "attack on our international students." 

"These rules are unnecessary and un-American, and the middle of a public health crisis is no time to be playing with the futures of our students," he tweeted.

The New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Education described the news as "unbelievable and "xenophobic and illegal."

"Just 10 days ago, @ICEgov rescinded its directive. Now here we go again with the xenophobic and illegal antics," the office tweeted. "We consider newly-enrolling international students part of our New Jersey family, regardless of whether they're learning online or not. ICE should too."

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