- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agreed to withdraw the July 6 rule, and "return to the status quo."
- Generally speaking, international students must not take more than one online course if they want to maintain their legal status.
- However, due to the new coronavirus epidemic, the federal government granted a temporary exemption to this rule in March.
The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it would cancel a plan that would deport international students if they take exclusively online courses this fall. This decision was announced when a federal court began to hear a lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT over this provision.
Allison Buroughs of the Massachusetts District Court said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agreed to withdraw the July 6 rule, and “return to the status quo.”
“This is an extremely significant outcome for international students and colleges,” said Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.
“But, make no mistake, this result is about the transformational power of our collective action and the swift, visible outrage of many — including presidents and chancellors of colleges and universities from across the country. The fight is not yet over.”
Lawyers representing the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE only stated that the judge’s description was correct. ICE announced on July 6 that international students who come to study in the United States would not be able to obtain visas to enter the United States if their schools are completely changed to online courses this fall.
International students in the United States would need to transfer to other schools that do not fully teach online, or take other measures to maintain their legal status in the United States. Generally speaking, international students must not take more than one online course if they want to maintain their legal status.
However, due to the new coronavirus epidemic, the federal government granted a temporary exemption to this rule in March this year. Most of the new ICE regulations on July 6 were a return to the past policies, but gave schools the option of implementing a mixed model of online and face-to-face teaching.
“The U.S. must continue to make clear that it welcomes international students and recognizes the enormous contributions they make to university communities and the country at large,” said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
This rule has caused dissatisfaction among many American universities. More than 200 universities submitted amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs in support of Harvard and MIT’s suit against ICE and DHS. These schools believe that the new regulations are meant to force schools to restart their campuses in the fall.
They said that ICE changed its policy without prior notice, did not consider the health risks faced by students and faculty, and disrupted the school for several months in order to ensure that students are safe during the new coronavirus epidemic. Prudent planning may also have caused financial losses to the school.
In addition, 17 states in the United States and the District of Columbia jointly filed another similar lawsuit against the court. Other schools and states have also sued DHS and ICE separately for new regulations.
In their statements to the court, ICE and DHS said that they have been informing the schools that the regulations arising from the outbreak will change. They stated that the new regulations are in line with the existing policy that international students are not allowed to take online courses.
Federal officials say they have also made accommodations, and even allow international students who are fully taking online classes abroad to retain their visas and identities.