Trump administration drops restriction for international students in online classes

A day after the University System of Maryland joined a multi-state lawsuit against it, the Department of Homeland Security has rescinded a July 6 policy directive stating that international students cannot remain in the U.S. if they take an online-only course load.

Returning international students will now be able to retain their visa status come fall, even if all their classes are held virtually, as had been the case in March when campuses began to close due to the coronavirus. 

However, incoming first-year students outside the U.S. will still be unable to enroll at universities offering online-only coursework, per original guidance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

The Trump administration has agreed to rescind the policy to resolve a lawsuit filed last week against ICE by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The schools argued that the new policy would threaten students’ safety and impede universities’ reopening plans. 

More than 200 other universities signed court briefs in support of that lawsuit. 

On Monday, the University System of Maryland, led by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, joined sixteen other states and the District of Columbia in another federal lawsuit against ICE over the new rule, according to a statement released from system Chancellor Jay Perman. 

[USM joins lawsuit against ICE over new student visa rule]

Perman referred to the July 6 announcement as “unnecessary and cruel,” writing that the rule punishes international students “without cause.” Some 5,300 international students within the university system could have been affected by the policy, Perman wrote. 

He emphasized that the policy could have not only increased the risk of coronavirus infections on Maryland campuses, but would have also hindered the university system’s COVID-19 economic recovery, as international students annually contribute over $125 million in tuition, housing and fees to the system, according to the statement. 

Last week, University of Maryland President Darryll Pines issued a campuswide email in solidarity with international students, stating that the university is working with representatives in Congress to protect international students’ immigration status. 

In a tweet Tuesday afternoon, Pines praised the government’s decision to rescind the rule.

“Maryland – and institutions across higher education – sprang into action in support of our international students, and we have prevailed,” he wrote. 

Due to the uncertainties caused by the coronavirus, the American Council on Higher Education has predicted a 25 percent drop in international student enrollment at U.S. universities over the next year.

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