Trump administration rescinds rule on foreign students

The decision was announced at the start of a hearing in a federal lawsuit in Boston

A view of the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology on July 08, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The decision was announced at the start of a hearing in a federal lawsuit in Boston brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs said federal immigration authorities agreed to pull the July 6 directive and “return to the status quo.”

A lawyer representing the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said only that the judge’s characterization was correct.

Read More: Harvard, MIT sue to block ICE rule on international students

The announcement brings relief to thousands of foreign students who had been at risk of being deported from the country, along with hundreds of universities that were scrambling to reassess their plans for the fall in light of the policy.

Under the policy, international students in the U.S. would have been forbidden from taking all their courses online this fall. New visas would not have been issued to students at schools planning to provide all classes online, which includes Harvard. Students already in the U.S. would have faced deportation if they didn’t transfer schools or leave the country voluntarily.

Immigration officials issued the policy last week, reversing earlier guidance from March 13 telling colleges that limits around online education would be suspended during the pandemic. University leaders believed the rule was part of President Donald Trump’s effort to pressure the nation’s schools and colleges to reopen this fall even as new virus cases rise.

President Trump Participates In National Dialogue On Safely Reopening Nation's Schools
U.S. President Donald Trump participates in an event with students, teachers and administrators about how to safely re-open schools during the novel coronavirus pandemic in the East Room at the White House July 07, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The policy drew sharp backlash from higher education institutions, with more than 200 signing court briefs supporting the challenge by Harvard and MIT. Colleges said the policy would put students’ safety at risk and hurt schools financially. Many schools rely on tuition from international students, and some stood to lose millions of dollars in revenue if the rule had taken hold.

Harvard and MIT were the first to contest the policy, but at least seven other federal suits had been filed by universities and states opposing the rule.

Harvard and MIT argued that immigration officials violated procedural rules by issuing the guidance without justification and without allowing the public to respond. They also argued that the policy contradicted ICE’s March 13 directive telling schools that existing limits on online education would be suspended “for the duration of the emergency.”

Read More: ICE: International students must leave U.S. if classes are online only

The suit noted that Trump’s national emergency declaration has not been rescinded and that virus cases are spiking in some regions.

Immigration officials, however, argued that they told colleges all along that any guidance prompted by the pandemic was subject to change. They said the rule was consistent with existing law barring international students from taking classes entirely online. Federal officials said they were providing leniency by allowing students to keep their visas even if they study online from abroad.

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