CORONAVIRUS

Trump administration rescinds rule on foreign students

Rule would have required international students to transfer or leave U.S. if their colleges held classes entirely online this fall

FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2019, file photo, pedestrians walk through the gates of Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Ca
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2019, file photo, pedestrians walk through the gates of Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, July 8, 2020, challenging the Trump administration’s decision to bar international students from staying in the U.S. if they take classes entirely online this fall. Some institutions, including Harvard, have announced that all instruction will be offered remotely in the fall during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

BOSTON — Facing eight federal lawsuits and opposition from hundreds of universities, the Trump administration on Tuesday rescinded a rule that would have required international students to transfer or leave the country if their schools held classes entirely online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision was announced at the start of a hearing in a federal lawsuit in Boston brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs said federal immigration authorities agreed to pull the July 6 directive and “return to the status quo.”

A lawyer representing the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said only that the judge’s characterization was correct.

The announcement brings relief to thousands of foreign students who had been at risk of being deported from the country, along with hundreds of universities that were scrambling to reassess their plans for the fall in light of the policy. With the policy rescinded, ICE will revert to a directive from March that suspended typical limits around online education for foreign students.

Under the policy, international students in the U.S. would have been forbidden from taking all their courses online this fall. New visas would not have been issued to students at schools planning to provide all classes online, which includes Harvard. Students already in the U.S. would have faced deportation if they didn’t transfer schools or leave the country voluntarily.

Immigration officials issued the policy last week, reversing earlier guidance from March 13 telling colleges that limits around online education would be suspended during the pandemic. University leaders believed the rule was part of President Donald Trump’s effort to pressure the nation’s schools and colleges to reopen this fall even as new virus cases rise.

The policy drew sharp backlash from higher education institutions, with more than 200 signing court briefs supporting the challenge by Harvard and MIT. Colleges said the policy would put students’ safety at risk and hurt schools financially. Many schools rely on tuition from international students, and some stood to lose millions of dollars in revenue if the rule had taken hold.

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Iowa City was among many communities across the nation backing the legal challenge, arguing the policy jeopardizes student safety and forces schools to reconsider fall plans they have spent months preparing.

The presidents of Iowa’s public universities also appealed Monday to the state’s congressional delegation for help. But Iowa’s state government declined to get involved.

The University of Iowa plans to welcome students back this fall to the Iowa City campus with most classes being in-person, but with larger lectures delivered online only. However, the UI plans to switch to all online classes and final exams after Thanksgiving out of concern about students traveling in the coronavirus pandemic.

“In addition to the harm the new rule will cause to the city, Iowa City joined the brief to support the many international students that call our community home and the right of the University of Iowa to make judgments about whether reopening in the fall is safe and educationally advisable without jeopardizing the status of its international students,” the city of Iowa City said in a statement.

Harvard and MIT were the first to contest the policy, but at least seven other federal suits had been filed by universities and states opposing the rule.

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