Facing a barrage of federal lawsuits and opposition from hundreds of universities and big tech companies, the Trump administration on Tuesday back-pedalled on a rule that would have invalidated the visas of foreign students.
The rule required international students to transfer or leave the country if their schools held classes entirely online because of the pandemic.
According to AP, the policy somersault was announced at the start of a hearing in a federal lawsuit in Boston brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs said federal immigration authorities agreed to pull the July 6 directive and “return to the status quo.”
A lawyer representing the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said only that the judge’s characterisation was correct.
The announcement brings relief to thousands of foreign students who had been at risk of being deported from the country, along with hundreds of universities that were scrambling to reassess their plans for the fall in light of the policy.
Under the policy, international students in the U.S. would have been forbidden from taking all their courses online this fall.
New visas would not have been issued to students at schools planning to provide all classes online, which includes Harvard.
Students already in the U.S. would have faced deportation if they didn’t transfer schools or leave the country voluntarily.
Immigration officials issued the policy last week, reversing earlier guidance from March 13 telling colleges that limits around online education would be suspended during the pandemic.
University leaders believed the rule was part of President Donald Trump’s effort to pressure the nation’s schools and colleges to reopen this fall even as new virus cases rise.
The policy drew sharp backlash from higher education institutions, with more than 200 signing court briefs supporting the challenge by Harvard and MIT.
Colleges said the policy would put students’ safety at risk and hurt schools financially.
Many schools rely on tuition from international students, and some stood to lose millions of dollars in revenue if the rule had taken hold.