The Trump administration rescinded a controversial rule Tuesday that would have sent international students to their home countries if their fall classes were entirely online.
Under the July 6 directive from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, international students with a fully online full semester would not be able to renew F-1 and M-1 visas. Students with all-online classes would have had to leave the country, transfer to an institution with in-person classes or face deportation. The rule was challenged in court by multiple universities and eight federal lawsuits.
The walkback was announced Tuesday at the beginning of a hearing in a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, according to the Associated Press. Allison Burroughs, the Massachusetts federal district judge, said federal immigration authorities agreed to pull the July 6 directive and “return to the status quo,” according to AP.
The rule had gained national attention. More than 200 people signed court briefs supporting the Harvard and MIT court case challenging the rule. A Change.org petition asking ICE to rescind the decision had more than 138,000 signatures as of Tuesday.
The International Student Alliance at the University System of Georgia was created after the rule was announced. It started a Change.org petition asking the USG and the University of Georgia to create a tuition-free in-person class for international students. The petition had over 1,700 signatures as of Tuesday.
Some schools have already transitioned to fully online classes for the fall. Even if universities are planning on a return to in-person classes, there is a possibility that classes will move all online due to an on-campus COVID-19 outbreak, which would mean international students would be sent home.
Harvard and MIT’s case argued that ICE issued the rule without justification and without allowing public response, according to AP. It also said the July 6 policy violated a March 13 ICE directive that told schools that existing limits on online education would be suspended “for the duration of the emergency.”
Immigration officials said they told colleges that any guidance prompted by the pandemic was subject to change, and that the rule was consistent with existing law that bars international students from taking classes entirely online, according to AP.
University leaders believe the rule was part of President Donald Trump administration’s effort to pressure schools into reopening with in-person classes as COVID-19 cases rise in the U.S., according to AP.
Correction: Federal officials rescinded the rule Tuesday, not a federal judge. The Red & Black regrets this error and it has been corrected.