Trump administration rescinds rule on foreign students

President Donald Trump (Photo: Tia Dufour / The White House)

(CBS News) — The Trump administration on Tuesday said it would rescind guidance issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would have prohibited foreign students from taking online-only coursework in the fall. The proposed policy had elicited a flurry of lawsuits and withering criticism from schools, lawmakers and states.

The Justice Department, which represents the government in federal litigation, informed the U.S. District Court in Boston that the ICE guidance would be scrapped during a hearing Tuesday afternoon. A federal judge was slated to rule on whether to block the policy, which had been challenged by schools like Harvard and MIT and by several states, including Massachusetts and New York.

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Regulations that govern the Student and Exchange Visitor Program generally bar foreigners on F-1 and M-1 visas — which are for academic and vocational students, respectively — from participating in online-only school semesters. But in March, ICE issued an exemption to these requirements for the spring and summer semesters as a result of the worsening coronavirus public health crisis.

On July 6, ICE announced that the exemption would not remain in place during the fall semester, saying in a message to students and schools that F-1 and M-1 visa holders would not be allowed to enter or remain in the U.S. if they intended to take only online classes in the fall.

ICE said foreign students already in the U.S. who were planning to attend colleges or universities that will only offer online classes in the fall would have needed to transfer to other schools providing in-person instruction, leave the country or face potential deportation. If they departed the U.S., the students would’ve have been able to continue the remote instruction in their home countries. Students could also have participated in hybrid semesters as long as their schools certified that not all of their classes were online.