The Trump administration on Tuesday rescinded a rule that would have required international students to leave the country if their colleges hold classes entirely online this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the decision on Tuesday as a court hearing was getting underway.
Last Wednesday Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology asked a federal court to temporarily block an order by the Trump administration to expel foreign students whose universities are not holding in-person classes this fall amid COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has forced many schools in the United States to offer online classes in accordance with social distancing measures to beat COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Trump administration had argued that since the lectures are being delivered online, foreign students should be sent back to their countries and continue learning from there.
On Monday, the administration formally issued an order that could force tens of thousands of foreign students to leave the country if their schools hold all classes online. Harvard had announced it would hold all classes online in the coming fall term.
“Within the last hour, we filed pleadings together with MIT in the US District Court in Boston seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of the order,” Harvard’s President Lawrence Bacow said in an email addressed to the Harvard community on Wednesday.
“We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students – and international students at institutions across the country – can continue their studies without the threat of deportation.”
The order came as a surprise to many academic institutions still trying to grapple with the logistical challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The order came down without notice – its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Bacow’s email said. “It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others.”
Reuters reported last week that there are more than a million foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities, and many schools depend on revenue from foreign students, who often pay full tuition.
“The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said institutions moving entirely to online learning must submit plans to the agency by July 15. Schools that will use only in-person learning, shortened or delayed classes, or a blend of in-person and online learning must submit plans by Aug. 1. The guidance applies to holders of F-1 and M-1 visas, which are for academic and vocational students,” Reuters added.