Home News Government Rescinds Plan to Strip Visas From Foreign Students in Online Classes

Government Rescinds Plan to Strip Visas From Foreign Students in Online Classes

U.S.|Government Rescinds Plan to Strip Visas From Foreign Students in Online Classes

Anemona HartocollisMiriam Jordan

The Trump administration has walked back a policy that would strip international college students of their U.S. visas if their coursework was entirely online, ending a proposed plan that had thrown the higher education world into turmoil.

The policy announced on July 6 prompted an immediate lawsuit from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and on Tuesday, the government and the universities reached a resolution, according to the judge overseeing the case.

Under the agreement, which was announced by the judge, the Trump administration is reinstating a policy that had been put into place in March amid the coronavirus pandemic that gives international students flexibility to take all their classes online and remain legally in the country with a student visa.

“Both the policy directive and the frequently asked questions would not be enforced anyplace” under the agreement, Judge Allison D. Burroughs said, adding that it applied nationwide.

The guidance that was the subject of the agreement, issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, would have required foreign students to take at least one in-person class or leave the country. Students who returned to their home countries when schools closed in March would not have been allowed back into the United States if their fall classes were solely online.

The higher education world was thrown into disarray, with most colleges already well into planning for the fall semester. Two days after it was announced, Harvard and M.I.T. filed the first of several lawsuits seeking to stop it.

The attorneys general of at least 18 states, including Massachusetts and California, also sued, charging that the policy was reckless, cruel and senseless. Scores of universities threw their support behind the litigation, along with organizations representing international students.

On Tuesday, more than a dozen technology companies, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, also came out in support of the Harvard and M.I.T. lawsuit, arguing that the policy would harm their businesses.

“America’s future competitiveness depends on attracting and retaining talented international students,” the companies said in court papers.

The government had argued in court papers that the new requirement was actually more lenient than rules that had been in effect for close to 20 years, which allowed foreign students to take only one class online to remain legally in the country with a student visa. It said it was exercising its discretion and trying to be as flexible as possible within the rules.

The government had temporarily suspended that rule on March 13, when President Trump declared a national emergency and campuses across the country began shutting down, with classes going online. However, on July 6, the government announced that foreign students could not remain in the United States if their studies were entirely online.

Judge Burroughs hinted in a preliminary hearing last week that the universities had met part of the test for a preliminary injunction, urging them to discourage a large number of friend of the court briefs that would make arguments about issues like the potential harm to students and universities. But she indicated that it would be more difficult to decide whether the government had made procedural violations in issuing its new guidance.

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