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White House Rescinds Rule Restricting International Students from Studying Online

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On Tuesday, the Trump administration rescinded a policy that would have forced international students on F-1 and M-1 visas to either leave the U.S. or transfer to another school if their classes are held entirely online in the fall. The decision to revert back to a March guidance—which allows for flexibility during the coronavirus pandemic—was made as the administration faced eight federal lawsuits and intense opposition from entities such as cities, states, and colleges and universities.

Ordered Back to Class 

The policy directive reversed on Tuesday was only issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) a little over a week ago, on July 6. The guidance was immediately met with resistance—students expressed concern that it failed to consider their well being and colleges and universities were sent scrambling to readjust their fall plans, many of which were the result of months of preparation. In a statement to students, Harvard President Larry Bacow said that the policy “came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness.”

What the Rescission Means for International Students 

For the moment, international students on F-1 and M-1 visas are able to study in the U.S. even if the institution they’re attending has moved exclusively online as the result of the pandemic. This is in line with the temporary suspension limiting online education available to international students instituted in March. While students and institutions of higher education can breathe a sigh of relief for the moment, it’s important to note that there is nothing to stop the administration from trying again with another directive. 

Opposition from Harvard & MIT 

The administration’s abandonment of their planned policy comes in response to a federal lawsuit brought by Harvard and MIT. While the two Boston-area schools were the first to challenge the policy, they were not alone; more than 200 universities signed briefs backing the legal challenge. According to Larry Bacow, “The ICE directive sought to force each of us to choose between the health of our communities and the education of our international students—a false and dangerous choice which we rejected.”
The administration’s walking back of their policy was applauded by the American Council on Education (ACE), a group that represents university presidents. Terry Hartle, ACE’s senior vice president said about the collective disapproval of the guidance by the college community, “There has never been a case where so many institutions sued the federal government.” 

Additional Opposition

Colleges and universities were joined in their objection to the policy by a coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia, who collectively filed another federal lawsuit against the administration calling the policy “a cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students.” 
The coalition of states represents a broad swath of the U.S., including states on both coasts and the midwest. The states in the coalition were: 
  • Connecticut
  • Maryland
  • Illinois
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia
  • Nevada
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Oregon
  • New Mexico
  • Rhode Island
  • Wisconsin
  • Vermont
  • Michigan
There are also 26 cities and counties that were vocal about their disapproval of the White House’s policy, voicing concern over the damage it will do to their economies. The cities range from major metropolises like New York City—where international students contribute $3 billion per year to its economy—to more average American cities such as Iowa City, whose 2,500 international students contribute millions of dollars per year. 
Briefs supporting the Harvard and MIT lawsuit were also filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce along with companies including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

GoffWilson Immigration Law

GoffWilson exclusively practices immigration law and has helped numerous colleges and universities bring the world’s brightest minds to their campuses. If you have a question about what the latest policy directive means for your institution or have any other inquiries about international students, contact us today. Immigration isn’t just what we do, it’s our passion!
Filed under:Immigration Law