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Updated at 6:34 p.m. ET
In a quick turnaround, the Trump administration agreed to rescind a directive that would have barred international students from the United States if their colleges offered fully online courses in the fall semester.
The rule change for the application of U.S. immigration and customs laws, released last week, would have banned foreign students from entering or staying in the country to take loads of courses entirely online. A number of colleges and universities had previously announced their intention to offer online courses solely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The agency’s July 6 announcement sparked immediate backlash.
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the US government in federal court two days later, calling the directive “arbitrary and capricious” and seeking to overturn it and declare it illegal.
Many colleges, universities, municipalities and tech companies have expressed support for the court challenge in their own court cases.
In Tuesday’s session in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, universities were to argue that the rule was onerous for schools and even dangerous for students.
Instead, Judge Allison Burroughs announced that the schools had struck a deal with ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security. She said the government would reverse this policy.
“The court has been informed by the parties that they have reached a resolution on the combined applications for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction,” the court record reads. “The government agreed to cancel the political directive of July 6, 2020 and the FAQ of July 7, 2020, and also agreed to cancel their implementation. ”
With the revocation of the new “nationwide” directive, schools will follow ICE guidelines from March which allow flexibility regarding student visa eligibility.
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday afternoon.
The Department of Homeland Security previously upheld its ruling in a legal response on Monday, saying the leniency request “subverts the deference accorded to administrative agencies in complex and interrelated areas such as immigration law enforcement.”
According to the nonprofit Institute of International Education, more than one million higher education students in the United States, or about 5% of all students, come from abroad.
Last week’s rule change has left a lot of people scrambling to figure out their plans.
In order to maintain legal status, students already present in the country would have had to be transferred to a school with in-person instruction, which presented both logistical and public health challenges.
Sumana Kaluvai, an Indian international student who graduated from the University of California Los Angeles last year, has created a Google Doc website to help international students find classes in person.
She welcomed Tuesday’s news.
“It relieves me and I think it’s just proof that universities have a lot more power than we think, and I’m glad they took such swift action,” Kaluvai said.
Many colleges and universities had already started taking steps to retain their international students.
Some have announced or reiterated their plans for the fall semester for a hybrid model of in-person and distance education, where students can stay in the United States
Others have also started to arrange for one-on-one in-person instruction if health conditions require them to convert to online-only operations.
In one example, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken wrote in a July 8 statement that she had spoken to most of the faculty and each had volunteered to offer an individual tutorial. to international students to help them avoid expulsion.
“A colleague of mine told me he would teach outside in the snow if he needed to,” she added.
Florida International University vice president Pablo Ortiz oversees the school’s international students and global campuses and welcomed the reversal, but said administrators would continue to plan multiple scenarios so as not to be again caught off guard.
They were in the process of reworking around 3,500 student course schedules to comply when news of the reversal became public.
“We were happy to hear this, but we are cautiously optimistic that it will stay that way, and we will be ready for whatever decisions are made,” Ortiz said.
International students often pay the full tuition fee, meaning that many schools affected by the now resolved lawsuit have reportedly suffered significant financial losses.
The same goes for the economy itself: Analysis has shown that international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $ 41 billion in the 2018-19 academic year and supported more than 458,200 jobs.
Yet Tuesday’s announcement was not unanimously applauded.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates lower immigration levels, issued a statement denouncing the move as “yielding to pressure from the business lobby and advocates for openness. borders “.
NPR’s Elissa Nadworny and Jeffrey Pierre contributed to this report.