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International Students Safe from In-Person Schooling Requirement After Trump Backs Down

The Trump Administration Reversed Course on a Restrictive Rule Threatening International Students’ Status

On July 6, 2020, international students and immigration advocates alike were infuriated to learn the Trump administration had declared that those on F-1 and M-1 student visas must attend at least some in-person schooling in Fall 2020 to remain eligible under their visas. Those who did not comply would potentially be subject to removal proceedings. The new rule was crafted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), which manages student visas.

The policy ran contrary to the apparent realities and risks wrought by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended educational institutions struggling to adapt to the fluid situation. Many universities, including Harvard, had declared their intention for an online-only fall semester, while others, including Boston University, have taken a more hybrid approach. Many have not decided on a plan at all, hoping infection rates will subside enough to enable at least some in-person learning. Institutions are struggling with the need for caution and pragmatism weighed against the pragmatism (or lack thereof) in an online-only learning environment.

Those plans became much harder when international students’ visa statuses were endangered by the new policy. Most student visas do require in-person learning, but those conditions were suspended once the pandemic shut down campuses across the nation. Lawmakers from both parties and higher education institutions decried the move. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed suits challenging the government’s policy, arguing it would endanger students and jeopardize their hard-earned opportunity to learn in the country. Soon, seventeen other states and the District of Columbia filed their own lawsuits.

In the face of this overwhelming criticism, the Trump administration backed down and rescinded the new rule on July 14. This came as a result of a resolution between the federal government and the Harvard and MIT suits. International students on F-1 and M-1 student visas will no longer be required to attend any in-person classes to remain eligible under their visa.

The move comes as a relief for foreign students scrambling to determine how they could remain compliant while also taking precautions in light of COVID-19. This was especially problematic for students at institutions that had already announced online-only operations.

Many cheered the reversal but expressed frustration that the whole affair generated unnecessary panic in addition to wasting time and resources. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra pointed out that it should not take a flurry of lawsuits and bipartisan outrage to compel the Trump administration to not go forward with an obviously harmful plan.

Political observers theorize that ICE was likely attempting to force colleges and universities to reopen, a flashpoint in the COVID-19 crisis and a wave of botched reopenings in some states, effectively using the legal status of international students as leverage. Both ICE and the Trump administration have largely kept mum beyond an acknowledgment of the rule’s reversal. This development comes on the heels of several other efforts to restrict immigration during the pandemic, including the suspension of various worker visas and green cards.

Having Trouble with Your Student Visa? We Can Help.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it a turbulent time to be pursuing higher education in the United States, and abrupt new government restrictions do not help. While these latest rules have been rescinded, we understand how stressful the student visa process can be. Our team at Nathan Christensen P.C. has substantial experience helping foreign students procure and maintain visas. We strive to help our clients achieve the American dream and are prepared to help you handle any evolving regulations that emerge.

If you are struggling with a student visa problem, our immigration lawyers can help. We have assisted hundreds of clients in reaching favorable outcomes to their cases. Call (972) 497-1017 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation.

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