Trump administration repeals rule prohibiting international students from taking all online courses

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Faced with eight federal lawsuits and opposition from hundreds of universities, the Trump administration overturned a rule on Tuesday that would have forced international students to transfer or leave the country if their schools had run courses entirely online due to of the pandemic.The decision was announced at the start of a hearing in a federal Boston lawsuit brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. US District Justice Allison Burroughs said federal immigration officials have agreed to withdraw the July 6 directive and “return to the status quo.”

A lawyer representing the United States Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement has only stated that the judge’s qualification is correct.

The announcement relieved thousands of foreign students who were at risk of being expelled from the country, as well as hundreds of universities struggling to reassess their plans for the fall in light of politics.

In the United States, President Donald Trump pushed schools to reopen in the fall. (Evan Vucci / The Associated Press)

Under the policy, international students in the United States would not have been allowed to take all of their courses online this fall. New visas have reportedly not been issued to students at schools planning to conduct all online courses, including Harvard. Students already in the United States would have been expelled if they had not transferred schools or left the country voluntarily.

Immigration officials released the policy last week, reversing previous March 13 directives telling colleges that limits on online education would be lifted during the pandemic. University leaders believed the rule was part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure schools and colleges across the country to reopen this fall as new cases of the virus rose.

The policy has sparked strong backlash from higher education institutions, with over 200 court case signatures supporting the challenge by Harvard and MIT. Colleges have said the policy will put student safety at risk and hurt schools financially. Many schools rely on the tuition fees of international students, and some risk losing millions of dollars in revenue if the rule had taken effect.

Harvard and MIT were the first to challenge the policy, but at least seven other federal lawsuits have been filed by universities and states opposed to the rule.

Harvard and MIT argued that immigration officials had violated the rules of procedure by issuing the directives without justification and without allowing the public to respond. They also argued that the policy contradicted the ICE directive of March 13 telling schools that existing limits on online education would be suspended “during the time of the emergency”.

The prosecution noted that Trump’s national emergency declaration has not been overturned and that cases of viruses are increasing in certain regions.

Immigration officials have argued, however, that they have always told colleges that any direction brought on by the pandemic could change. They said the rule was in line with existing law prohibiting international students from taking courses entirely online. Federal officials have said they grant leniency by allowing students to keep their visas even if they study online from abroad.

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