Donald Trump‘s administration has abandoned its plan to rescind certain visas for foreign college students whose universities would be moving to online-only courses.
Several universities and attorneys general in 18 states as well as Washington DC had sued the administration over the policy, announced earlier this month. Dozens of other universities and tech giants signed court briefs in support.
Under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) guidelines, which have been scrapped, for now, foreign students whose courses were moved online amid the coronavirus pandemic would have to leave the country. It instructed students on F-1 and M-1 visas to “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status”.
The administration reached a settlement on Tuesday, a week after the guidance was issued, that reinstates a March policy allowing foreign students to legally remain in the country while their universities make course adjustments.
Critics condemned the administration’s move as another attempt to railroad anti-immigration policies under the auspices of combatting Covid-19.
In court filings, the administration argued that “a solely online programme of study provides a nonimmigrant student with enormous flexibility to be present anywhere in the United States for up to an entire academic term, whether that location has been reported to the government, which raises significant national security concerns”.
Universities in response alleged that their students face ”irreparable injury” under that policy, as well as under the administration’s current immigration orders.
“The government is enforcing the directive at airports and consulates across the world, turning students away because they attend universities that have made the considered decision to offer instruction online this fall,” universities argued.
Within minutes of the hearing’s start, the Department of Homeland Security agreed to walk back its policy.
The ruling in US District Court in Massachusetts will bring some relief to thousands of students who were likely to be impacted by rule changes across the US, where fall semesters are set to begin in within weeks.
International students comprise roughly 5.5 per cent of US university campuses, or roughly 1 million students.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who also filed a lawsuit on Monday, said the ruling is “welcome news for more than 100,000 international students in New York”.
“It’s time for the president to stop treating immigrants like nothing more than scapegoats and for him to start leading our nation through this national pandemic,” she said.
In a statement celebrating the ruling, the ACLU said that “the administration’s exploitation of the Covid-19 pandemic in pursuit of its anti-immigrant agenda knows no bounds”.
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