The Trump administration has abandoned its attempt to force foreign students to leave the US if their colleges hold classes entirely online this fall due to COVID-19 in a dramatic reversal from a policy announced just days ago.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the decision on Tuesday as a court hearing was underway in Massachusetts after Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the government.
US District Judge Allison Burroughs in Massachusetts said the government and the two colleges had come to a settlement that would roll back the new rules and restore the previous status quo.
A lawyer representing the Department of Homeland Security and ICE said only that the judge’s characterization was correct.
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.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the decision on Tuesday as a court hearing was underway in Massachusetts after Harvard University (above) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the government
It comes just days after the administration announced the policy requiring international students to transfer schools or leave the country if their colleges hold classes entirely online this fall because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Under the policy, international students in the US would have been forbidden from taking all their courses online this fall.
Fifty-nine US universities have filed a brief supporting a lawsuit by Harvard and MIT over the Trump administration’s plan to strip international students of their visas if all their classes move online. The schools argued that the policy has caused ‘significant harm and turmoil’
New visas would not have been issued to students at schools planning to provide all classes online, which includes Harvard. Students already in the US would have faced deportation if they didn’t transfer schools or leave the country voluntarily.
Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit challenging the policy, arguing the measure was unlawful and would adversely affect their academic institutions.
A flurry of lawsuits, including one brought by a coalition of state governments, were filed after Harvard’s legal action and major tech companies and dozens of colleges and universities filed ‘friend-of-the-court’ briefs opposing the rule.
There are more than a million foreign students at US colleges and universities and many schools depend on revenue from foreign students who often pay full tuition.
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.
Harvard and MIT (above) filed a lawsuit challenging the policy, arguing the measure was unlawful and would adversely affect their academic institutions
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.
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.’
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.