WASHINGTON: The Trump administration has walked back a policy that would have stripped international college students of their US visas if their coursework was entirely online, ending a proposed plan that had thrown the higher education world into turmoil.
US district judge Allison Burroughs in Massachusetts said the US government and Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology that sued over the measure had come to a settlement that would roll back the July 6 rules and restore the previous status quo. The agreement reinstates a policy implemented in March amid the pandemic that gave international students flexibility to take all their classes online and remain legally in the country with student visas.
“Both the policy directive and the frequently asked questions would not be enforced anyplace” under the resolution, Judge Burroughs said.Tens of thousands of foreign students in America, many from India, were holding their breath with eyes trained on the courtroom in Boston. The Harvard-MIT case was to be heard at 3pm EST on Tuesday (12.30am IST Wednesday), hours before the deadline for academic institutions to file “operation change plans” offering in-person classes.
Harvard and MIT had argued that immigration officials violated procedural rules by issuing the guidance without justification and without allowing the public to respond. They also argued that the policy contradicted US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s March 13 directive telling schools that existing limits on online education would be suspended”for the duration of the emergency”. Scores of universities threw their support behind the litigation, along with organisations, including the American Medical Association and Autoworkers’ Unions .
On Tuesday, more than a dozen technology firms, including, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter also came out in support of the Harvard and MIT lawsuit, arguing the policy would harm their businesses. “America’s future competitiveness depends on attracting and retaining talented international students,” they said in court papers.
The attorneys general of at least 18 states also filed a separate lawsuit, charging that the policy was reckless and cruel.
Immigration officials, however, argued that they told colleges all along that any guidance prompted by the pandemic was subject to change. They said the rule was consistent with existing law barring international students from taking classes entirely online. Federal officials said they were providing leniency by allowing students to keep their visas even if they study online from abroad
Judge Burroughs, an Obama appointee, is best known for her order putting a hold on President Trump’s travel ban in 2017 and a lawsuit challenging Harvard’s admissions programme as discriminatory against Asian-Americans (which went in favour of the university). She also heard the case involving Indian-American pharma executive John Kapoor, who was convicted of racketing after being deemed a lynchpin of US opioid crisis.