By Francisco Peña
The Trump Administration backtracked on Tuesday and will not seek to end Visas for foreign students at US schools that are offering all classes online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A new policy announced last week would have denied Visas to students if they didn’t take classes on campus, leaving thousands of international students struggling to find alternative education programs or being forced to return to their native countries.
Eight lawsuits had already been filed and hundreds of colleges and universities had complained that the new policy would put students’ safety at risk and would financially impact US schools as many rely on millions of dollars in annual tuition from international students.
U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs announced the decision on Tuesday morning during a hearing in Boston in the federal lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Judge Burroughs only said that said federal immigration authorities agreed to pull the July 6 policy and “return to the status quo.”
Under the new policy, international students already in the U.S. would have been allowed to take all their courses online this fall, and no new visas would have been issued to students at schools planning to provide all classes online. Students already in the U.S. would have faced deportation if they didn’t transfer schools or leave the country voluntarily.
Harvard and MIT argued in their lawsuit that the new policy violated procedural rules by issuing the guidance without justification and without allowing input from the public affected, including universities. The lawsuit also pointed out that the policy contradicted a March 13 directive issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that stated that existing limits on online education would be suspended “for the duration of the emergency”, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Harvard and MIT filed the lawsuit, several other schools joined the case and over 200 others signed court briefs supporting the challenge.
ICE officials argued that they told colleges all along that any guidance prompted by the pandemic was subject to change. They said the rule was consistent with existing law barring international students from taking classes entirely online. Federal officials said they were providing leniency by allowing students to keep their visas even if they study online from abroad.
All San Diego colleges and universities, including UCSD (pictured above) currently have foreign students on visas that would have been affected by the new policy.