Coronavirus: Trump administration rescinds student visa rule

Amid pushback from hundreds of universities and state-level officials, the Trump administration on Tuesday rescinded a policy that would have forced international students attending U.S. schools that go online for the fall semester to transfer or leave the country.

Update 3:20 p.m. EDT June 15: The decision to rescind the policy 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.”

Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow on Tuesday called the decision a “significant victory.”

“The directive had disrupted all of American higher education,” Bacow said. “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.”

Original report: The attorneys general of 17 states and the District of Columbia on Monday asked a judge to block the Trump administration from expelling international students attending U.S. schools that go online for the fall semester, calling the recently announced policy “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful.”

The lawsuit was filed after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced July 6 that students attending schools planning to stay online for classes in the fall would no longer be allowed to stay in the U.S. on F-1 or M-1 visas. In the lawsuit, officials argued that the decision was made without explanation.

>> Read the lawsuit

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is leading the coalition of attorneys general who filed suit Monday, called the new policy a “senseless rule” that “forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses.”

“Massachusetts is home to thousands of international students who make invaluable contributions to our educational institutions, communities, and economy,” she said in a statement. “We are taking this action today to make sure they can continue to live and learn in this country.”

According to the lawsuit, the recently announced ICE policy was an abrupt reversal of guidance released March 13 in which officials said that international students would be allowed to continue to attend colleges and universities in the U.S. "for the duration of the emergency" caused by COVID-19.

"This reversal leaves colleges and universities with an agonizing dilemma," attorneys general said in the suit. "To ensure all of their students can remain in the United States to continue their courses of study, they must scramble to offer sufficient in-person classes in myriad subjects for hundreds of thousands of international students, mere weeks before the semester starts, and without regard for the public health impact of doing so.

"The alternative is to lose significant numbers of international students from their campuses, who will be forced to leave the country to participate remotely insofar as they are able, transfer to another school offering sufficient in-person classes, or disenroll from school altogether."

The suit filed Monday was signed by attorneys general of Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Last week, officials with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit seeking to block the new rule on foreign students. Since then, more than 200 universities have signed court briefs backing the schools, according to The Associated Press.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.