After receiving backlash and pressure from universities, students, and technology companies, the Trump administration on Tuesday, July 14, reversed a policy that prohibited international university students from continuing their studies in the United States if their colleges went fully online.
The directive — announced last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — made it so non-immigrant international students who were taking a fully-online course load would have to leave the U.S. or take “other measures” like transferring to a university with in-person instruction. International students outside the U.S. would not have been able to return to the U.S. for classes.
The students were allowed to stay in the U.S. if their universities decided to take a hybrid approach of both online and in-person instruction.
The rule announcement was immediately met with lawsuits from universities and tech companies as many universities had already decided to offer online-only classes due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sued ICE just two days after the announcement to stop the policy from taking effect.
Quick to show support were other universities like Northeastern University and Princeton University, and some of the nation’s biggest tech companies like Adobe, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Spotify, and Twitter.
Also separately challenging the policy were 20 state attorneys including California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
As the universities prepared for their arguments in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on Tuesday, Judge Allison Burroughs announced that the U.S. government would be rescinding the rule.
“The Court was informed by the parties that they have come to a resolution to the combined temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction motions,” read the court docket. “The Government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020 Policy Directive and the July 7, 2020 FAQ, and has also agreed to rescind their implementation.”
With the rule withdrawn, the guidelines that applied to the previous Spring 2020 semester will be reinstated, thus allowing international students on F-1 visas to keep their visa status while still taking classes fully online.
Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow called the policy rescission a “significant victory.”
“The directive had disrupted all of American higher education,” wrote Bacow in an email to its affiliates on Tuesday. “I have heard from countless international students who said that the July 6 directive had put them at serious risk. These students — our students — can now rest easier and focus on their education, which is all they ever wanted to do.”
In light of reports of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) senior officials saying that the federal government still had plans to present regulation of the same nature, universities have pledged to stand by their international students should they again face challenges.
“While the government may attempt to issue a new directive, our legal arguments remain strong and the Court has retained jurisdiction, which would allow us to seek judicial relief immediately to protect our international students should the government again act unlawfully,” wrote Bacow.
The University of California (UC) Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez and President Janet Napolitano said in a joint statement, “UC will continue putting our students’ health and safety first — and we will be keeping a watchful eye on what the administration might propose next should we need to step in again.”
Last week’s policy change left international students suddenly unsure of what would happen to their academic and career plans. Many students faced added uncertainty due to travel restrictions made by their home countries.
More than 1 million university students in the U.S. come from overseas, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE).
Data released by Open Doors last December revealed that 3,320 international students enrolled in the U.S. in 2019 were Filipino.
“I’m thankful that there are universities out there fighting to keep their international students — it shows us that the work we put in to come here was valued and worth it, and it also encourages us,” a Filipina international student studying in Tennessee told the Asian Journal last week.