US Walks Back Rule that Would See International Students Deported or Barred

Hundreds of universities had voiced their opposition to the rule, with Harvard and MIT, among others, filing lawsuits against the Trump administration’s directive.
July 15, 2020, 11:40am
harvard library flickr
Students mill in front of Harvard's Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library. Photo: Flickr/Niklas Tenhaef

Facing the ire of hundreds of U.S. universities, the Trump administration rescinded a recent guideline that would have forced international students to leave the country if their university offered classes entirely online—a model adopted by many institutions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within days of its July 6 rollout, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement rule had already been met with eight federal lawsuits and vocal opposition from hundreds of institutions of higher learning, for whom international students have come to represent a significant source of revenue.

Just minutes before a scheduled hearing of the federal lawsuit brought by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the judge slated to preside over the case announced that federal immigration authorities had withdrawn the directive, nullifying the suit altogether, the AP reported.

“It’s truly amazing how our universities stood up for us,” Yufei Liu, a rising senior from China at University of California, Davis, told VICE. “And all of my friends stood up for me during this difficult time. It’s proof that we as individuals can get things done when we are united.”

International students at universities across the nation, many back in their home nations during the pandemic, had voiced their concerns about the regulation.

In the days of uncertainty following the announcement, many students rallied to come up with ways of circumventing the rule—for example, circulating lists of in-person courses for the fall and even petitioning universities to create one in-person class that all international students could attend in order to meet requirements under the new rule.

But in a win for universities and international students, such efforts are no longer necessary.

“This is a significant victory. The directive had disrupted all of American higher education,” Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote in an email to Harvard affiliates. “I have heard from countless international students who said that the July 6 directive had put them at serious risk. These students—our students—can now rest easier and focus on their education, which is all they ever wanted to do.”

Nhi Nguyen, an international student from Vietnam, told VICE that the guidelines were created by an administration hostile to foreigners that sought to hide a xenophobic agenda behind a pandemic.

The rule being rescinded, she said, made her proud that the “voices of people have been heard loud and clear. We have won.”

“The international student population in the U.S. fosters a diverse environment in this country,” she said. “Not only [do] international students coming into the U.S. have significant positive economic impact, we also offer our world-class intelligence and skills. We are important to the U.S.A.”