Opposition to the introduction of visa restrictions on international students in the United States continues to grow, with 180 academic institutions in the country speaking out against the move, despite adjustments made to the policy by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
On July 6, ICE announced that students currently in the US on F1 and M1 visas "must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status", if their school's classes are entirely online in the fall semester.
Anyone found violating the rules, ICE said, would risk "immigration consequences, including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings".
The policy was slammed by hundreds of thousands of international students in the US, and prompted higher education institutions in the country to launch lawsuits against ICE.
Amid escalating pressure, ICE issued a new statement on its website. When answering the question, "Are students attending schools that are entirely online barred from attending that school?", it said: "Students will not be permitted to enter or remain in the US to attend such schools, but they are not barred from continuing to attend all classes at these schools from abroad."
Under the updated rules, international students must take at least some of their classes in person. Overseas students can still keep their visas, as long as they can prove that their schools will offer some offline courses in the upcoming fall semester.
ICE noted that this approach "balances students' ability to continue their studies while minimizing the risk of spread of COVID-19 in our communities by ensuring that individuals who do not need to be present in the United States are not physically here".
The adjustment comes amid anger among US universities, as the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, which represents 180 higher education institutions in the US, issued a 22-page document on Saturday to show nationwide support for rescinding the restrictions.
"ICE's new policy serves only to severely disrupt international students' educational attainment, and our country is worse off for it," said Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, in a statement.
"This quasi-international student ban represents another unfortunate assault by the administration against immigrants and higher education," she added.
US President Donald Trump has insisted that schools and colleges return to in-person instruction as soon as possible. Soon after the restrictions were announced, Trump repeated on Twitter that schools must reopen this fall, adding that the Democrats wanted to keep schools closed "for political reasons, not for health reasons".
But the restrictions have put additional pressure on universities to reopen even amid growing concerns about the recent spread of COVID-19 among young adults.
Xinhua and agencies contributed to this story.