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Trump administration rescinds rule on foreign students

In this Aug. 13, 2019, file photo, pedestrians

In this Aug. 13, 2019, file photo, pedestrians walk through the gates of Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, July 8, 2020, challenging the Trump administration's decision to bar international students from staying in the U.S. if they take classes entirely online this fall. Credit: AP/Charles Krupa

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Tuesday rescinded rules that would have barred international students from remaining in the United States if their colleges only offered online courses in the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs announced the administration’s reversal during a teleconference hearing in Boston after Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a federal lawsuit last week seeking for the rules to be overturned.

"The Government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020" policy, a court clerk wrote in court documents made public shortly after the hearing.

Burroughs at the hearing said the federal government had agreed to “return to the status quo.”

The initial rules rolled out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week would have forced international students to leave the country or transfer to another institution if their school only offered online courses in the fall.

The rules were widely denounced by colleges and universities across the country, with university officials arguing that online courses were essential to protecting the health of students and faculty as the country continues to grapple with the spread of COVID-19. The schools also stood to lose out on revenue raised from foreign student tuition, which at some schools is higher than in-state student tuition. 

More than 200 higher education institutions signed on to the Harvard and MIT lawsuit, and seven other federal lawsuits were filed, including a lawsuit filed by 17 state attorneys general on Monday calling for the rules to be invalidated.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who joined the lawsuit filed Monday, said on Tuesday the Trump administration’s policy reversal was “welcome news for more than 100,000 international students in New York.” 

“President Trump and his team threatened the public health and safety of all students, all faculty, and hundreds of millions of residents across New York and the rest of the nation because of his rush to reopen schools, his anti-immigrant motives, and his sagging poll numbers,” James said, adding in a tweet that "schools should never have to choose between enrolling international students & public health, period."

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who also sued to end the policy, said on Twitter: "This is why we sue. The rule was illegal and the Trump administration knew they didn’t have a chance. They may try this again. We will be ready."

On Long Island, university officials last week raised concerns about the plan, but most said they planned to offer a mix of online and in-person courses and did not foresee the rules impacting foreign students on their campuses.

Hofstra University in a statement Tuesday said school leaders were “delighted that this ill-conceived rule has been rescinded. Our international students are a vital part of our campus community, and we are eager to welcome them back for the Fall 2020 semester.”

The New York Institute of Technology in a statement also lauded the decision, noting it has more than 2,000 international students on all of its U.S. campuses.

“We’re delighted about the news and happy that the advocacy of higher education and government leaders helped,” said NYIT officials.

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis in an e-mail said: "Our university is strong because we bring brilliant people together from all over the world to learn, collaborate, and work together.  As we await the Department of Homeland Security's formal confirmation of this decision, we will continue to support our international students and to help them navigate the changing guidelines so that they will be ready to begin their fall semester in the way that works best for them during this difficult time."

Last week, Adelphi University president Christine Riordan and Provost Steve Everett in a statement said the school was forming an “advisement team to work with each student and their academic adviser to create a course plan based on preferences for study and to ensure that those who want to stay at Adelphi will be able to."

SUNY's Provost Tod Laursen released a statement saying: "We are pleased that the reversal of this ill-advised federal directive will now provide an opportunity for our 19,000 international students to confidently continue their education, and for our campuses to ensure reopening plans are implemented in the best interest of all students, faculty, and staff.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to an email seeking comment.

— With Carol Polsky

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