In a significant turnaround, the Trump administration has rescinded its earlier decision to compel international students to attend in-person classes or face deportation. The abrupt policy shift, announced earlier this week, sparked widespread backlash from universities, legal experts, and advocates for higher education who deemed it unfairly harsh for the international student community.
The about-face came during a hearing for a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), challenging the initial policy. Federal judge Allison Burroughs disclosed the decision to retract the policy, acknowledging the mounting opposition from institutions across the country.
Recap of the Initial Policy
Just last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declared that holders of nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visas must attend in-person classes to stay in the country. Those attending online classes faced immigration consequences unless they transferred to institutions offering face-to-face instruction. The bewildering policy created confusion and disruption within the higher education community already grappling with reopening challenges amid the ongoing pandemic.
Why the Reversal?
Harvard and MIT swiftly filed a lawsuit challenging the policy, joined by attorneys general from 20 states, arguing that the decision was unjust, severe, and irresponsible. The lawsuit gained further momentum with support from numerous universities and major corporations, including Google, Twitter, and Facebook, who feared negative impacts on their businesses.
The universities contended that forcing international students to return home could sever familial ties in the U.S., potentially leaving them without a home. Some students already faced hurdles at airports, as immigration officials barred their entry, citing online classes as a reason.
Even 15 Republican members of Congress expressed their disagreement with the decision, signing a letter urging the Trump administration to reconsider.
Reactions to the Reversal
Following the announcement of the policy reversal, university officials applauded the decision but remained vigilant, prepared to return to court if further restrictive policies were imposed.
Representative Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican, praised the cancellation, emphasizing the valuable contributions of international students to communities both culturally and economically.
Harvard’s President, Lawrence S. Bacow, hailed the decision as a significant victory, alleviating serious risks international students faced under the July 6 policy. MIT’s President, L. Rafael Reif, emphasized the crucial role international students play in strengthening education, research, and innovation in the U.S.
The University of Southern California, part of an alliance of 20 West Coast universities and colleges that sued the government, expressed relief at the rule’s reversal. The statement highlighted that international students deserve the right to pursue education in the U.S. without the looming threat of deportation.
The U-turn on the international student policy represents a triumph for education, with universities and advocates successfully pushing back against a decision that could have had profound consequences. As the academic community breathes a collective sigh of relief, the focus can now return to fostering an inclusive and enriching educational environment for all students, regardless of their nationality.