Washington, Jul 14 (efe-epa).- The United States government on Tuesday backtracked on plans to revoke the visas of international students who would only be taking online classes at American universities in the fall due to the coronavirus.
President Donald Trump’s administration agreed to reverse course after Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Democratic attorneys general in nearly a score of US states brought legal challenges against the policy.
In a hearing in the case brought by Harvard and MIT, which had received the backing of more than 200 other universities, Boston federal Judge Allison Burroughs said a settlement had been reached between the federal government and those academic institutions.
The abrupt resolution of the case means that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s March 13 guidance, which allows foreign students to remain in the country even if their university opts for entirely online instruction, will remain in force.
The replacement guidance, which was announced by ICE on July 6 but had not yet been implemented, would have required students to take at least one in-person class in the fall semester to keep their student visas. It said then the guidance was aimed in part at minimizing the risk of transmission of Covid-19 by not allowing the entrance of students who do not need to be on campus.
Those unable to take any in-person classes due to the adoption of online-only instruction by their universities would have had to transfer to another school or leave the country.
Students who had left the US when universities closed down due to the pandemic in March, meanwhile, would not have been allowed to return to the country to study remotely via Internet.
The surprising settlement also brings an end to lawsuits brought by the state of New York, universities and colleges in the western US, Maryland’s Johns Hopkins University and a coalition of 17 states headed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
It also halts a separate lawsuit brought by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who had sought a court injunction to block the policy while litigation is ongoing.
“At a time when Covid-19 cases are surging across the state, the policy requires international students to take classes in person – putting themselves, teachers, other students, and the community at large at risk of getting and spreading the coronavirus – or be subject to deportation,” that state AG’s office said before the settlement was announced.
California, the state with the country’s largest education systems and more than 180,000 international students enrolled at colleges and universities each year, would have been particularly hard hit by the new policy.
Many universities plan to offer a combination of online and in-person classes to protect the health of their faculty, students and surrounding communities during the pandemic, according to The New York Times.
Approximately 1.1 million foreign students are currently studying in the US on F-1 and M-1 visas, according to the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE. These students typically pay higher tuition rates than students born in the US. EFE-EPA