Trump Admin Ditches Rule That Would’ve Kicked Out Int’l Students For Online Classes

Two students are seen leaving their campus with baggage at Harvard University premises in Cambridge, MA, July 08, 2020. (Photo by Anik Rahman/NurPhoto)
Two students are seen leaving their campus with baggage at Harvard University premises in Cambridge, MA, July 08, 2020. (Photo by Anik Rahman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
July 14, 2020 3:38 p.m.

The Trump administration has backed off of a new guidance that would’ve required international students with all online course loads to leave the country.

The move came after several states and universities sued over the guidance, arguing that it was arbitrary and capricious.

The administration had filed a defense of the policy on Monday, arguing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had every right to change its guidance with just weeks to go before the fall semester.

But when a Tuesday hearing began in that case — in which Harvard and M.I.T. sued the administration over the new guidance — Judge Allison D. Burroughs announced that the administration had abandoned its new rule.

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According to a summary of the proceedings published in the court’s online record, the July guidance is being rescinded on a nationwide basis.

As a result of Tuesday’s development, international students at U.S. universities will be able to continue operating under the guidance that ICE issued in March, which allowed them to take online classes in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

International students in the United States on academic visas are typically not permitted to take all-online course loads, But ICE’s March guidance allowed for an exception to that rule as universities across the country shifted away from holding classes in-person.

“The government backed down completely,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, of Tuesday’s development.

The administration appeared hesitant to defend the rule amid an impressive public backlash — aside from the court filing Monday, there was no significant public push to defend the now-abandoned guidance.

And the one official to stand up for the guidance, acting Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, may have hurt the administration’s case.

In an interview on CNN last week, Cuccinelli said the rule would “encourage schools to reopen.”

The parties suing the administration — including 17 states and the District of Columbia — subsequently quoted Cuccinelli’s appearance as proof that the administration had shown an “evident preference in favor of reopening” schools despite the risk posed by COVID-19.

“Coercing schools into holding more in-person classes in the fall — regardless of the schools’ assessment of the health and safety risks of doing so — harms the Plaintiff States’ ability to regulate their institutions and protect the public,” the states argued.

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