White House Scales Back Ruling and Allows International Students to Keep Their Visas

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The Trump administration has decided to reverse its new attempt to crack down on the non-citizen population in the country.

After ICE announced last week that F-1 and M-1 non-immigrant visa holders in the United States under the Exchange Visitor Program would not be able to enter or remain in the country if they attended classes only online, the government appears to have had second thoughts.

In the face of an uproar from universities, legal experts, and higher education advocates who considered the rules “unfairly punitive,” the administration retracted the guidelines issued last week.

Federal officials agreed to reverse the policy Tuesday, federal judge Allison Burroughs announced at a hearing on a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week, the Texas Tribune said, following reports that the White House was reconsidering the rule due to pushback from dozens of universities across the country.

The plaintiffs’ argument was that providing distance education “is crucial” given the high rate of COVID-19 infections in the country, and that they have put policies in place for the fall, depending on the guarantees the government provides, NPR said.

According to the Institute of International Education, more than 1 million international students take courses in the U.S. — about 5 percent of the total student body.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “blindsided the whole of higher education,” more than 180 colleges and universities wrote in their amicus brief filed with the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, where Harvard’s challenge was heard. The schools range from small private colleges to large public universities, spread across the nation. “Though diverse in faith, academic mission, geography, and size, these institutions are deeply concerned with and impacted by ICE’s July 6 directive,” they wrote.

“ICE’s abrupt policy change guts the enormous reliance interests of higher education institutions and their students — all of whom planned for the fall 2020 semester based on ICE’s earlier confirmation that its March 2020 position would remain so long as the ’emergency’ continued,” the schools wrote.

They also argued that, legally, ICE can’t just change its mind after so many schools spent months crafting policies based on the government’s guidance. To change course so completely without adequate justification is “arbitrary and capricious,” the schools wrote, citing the legal standard used by courts.

To the surprise of many, the Department of Homeland Security withdrew the visa guidelines before the court made its decision, and while the federal district hearing was taking place.

The decision means that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s March decision to allow international students to continue their studies remotely without affecting their visa status because of the coronavirus is still in effect, the Boston Globe explained.

However, it is unclear what this means for students whose visas are expiring and for new students who apply for visas and whose classes can be entirely online.