Trump Administration Rescinds Rules on Foreign Students Studying Online

The federal government reversed a proposed policy to bar international students taking remote courses from staying in the U.S.

On Tuesday July 14, the federal government rescinded the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (which oversees ICE) and ICE’s new rule barring international students taking courses remotely from staying in the U.S. This divisive and controversial policy had the potential to displace thousands of international students studying in online-only environments due to the global pandemic. The prospective rule, issued on July 6, mandated that foreign students who wished to stay in the U.S. maintain at least one in-person class during the fall semester. In other words, if the international student’s institution moved to remote learning, he or she would have been forced to leave the country. The other option would be to transfer to a school that planned to incorporate a face-to-face element.  

In response to this proposed policy, esteemed institutions such as Harvard and MIT spearheaded a lawsuit to oppose ICE’s prospective rules. The Harvard-MIT lawsuit enjoyed the support of many rival universities across the U.S. Fellow students and social activists were also quick to back their international peers and oppose this contentious, seemingly anti-immigrant policy.

During a hearing on Tuesday July 14, the U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs delivered an extremely reassuring, hopeful speech stating that the government reversed its position on the rules. She announced that ICE would now heed to initial guidelines, issued in March, that permitted students with appropriate visas to remain in the country. This would apply even if their coursework moved exclusively online.

This revolutionary reversal comes merely one day before a major deadline. Prior to yesterday’s reversal, today, July 15, institutions would have been burdened with submitting an “operational change plan” outlining how they would accommodate their international students under the new ICE rule.

This rule reversal eases many anxieties and grants the relief Harvard and MIT sought through a preliminary injunction. International students are essential to nurturing a deep, diverse, and dynamic learning environment. Today, we warmly welcome this news and celebrate this major feat for international students.