Thousands of international students are breathing a sigh of relief and fall planning is back on track for colleges after the Trump administration walked back a rule that would have barred foreign students in the U.S. from taking all their classes online.
“It’s really good to have the confirmation and have that backing that even if I were to do online classes, I would not have to leave the country,” said Christian Jackson, a Malaysian student at Drake University in Iowa.
“I can finally stop thinking of all other options and just, like, keep going, moving on with my life,” said Natalia Marques, a Brazilian student at Sonoma State University in Northern California.
The White House reversal came after 19 states and scores of universities sued the government over the plan to require foreign students to take in-person classes or face deportation.
Colleges argued that forcing international students to go home during the pandemic was cruel and, in some cases, logistically impossible.
Harvard University said in a statement that ICE “sought to force each of us to choose between the health of our communities and the education of our international students — a false and dangerous choice which we rejected.”
“I come from Malaysia. That’s just one of the tons of countries that these students can come from. You don’t know what kind of country they’re going back to, if the environment is even fit for them to be studying in with Wi-Fi concerns and stuff like that,” said Jackson.
The policy reversal is also a big financial boon to more than 100 universities that plan on teaching virtually in the fall.
Still, the week-long battle to reverse ICE’s guideline may have caused lasting damage by making studying in the U.S. a less attractive prospect to millions of people around the world.
“It sent a message to international students about how quickly an administration like this that views immigration through a really negative lens can just turn it off and take away those opportunities. There’s no doubt that this will have an effect on the enrollment of international students,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.
“Moving forward, I’m thinking, ‘Will I recommend the United States to other potential international students?’ Probably not. I’ll probably say, ‘Go somewhere that really wants you and will not kick you out,'” said Jackson.
Before the pandemic, international students had to take most of their course load in-person. But the government created an exemption in March “for the duration of the [health] emergency.” Facing a major backlash, the Trump administration agreed on Tuesday to keep the exemption in place for now.
“I’m not totally relieved because I think [President Trump] can just change something out of the blue one day. So we’ll see if he gets reelected,” said Marques.
“I understand why students are still anxious and fearful about what might happen. But I want them to know we are your government, too,” said Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey spearheaded one of the lawsuits against the student visa rule. She says she’s ready to go back to court should the administration try to impose new restrictions on international students.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that. But I hope that students can breathe a sigh of relief today knowing that at least for now, we’ve stopped that from happening,” Healey said.
Either way, analysts now believe the government has their hands tied until the end of the coronavirus crisis.
“We have federal law on administrative decision-making that says that agencies must be reasonable when they make these decisions. Because ICE put this exemption in place with the pandemic in mind, the reasonable thing to do would be to wait until the pandemic is over to lift that exemption” said Pierce.
Ben Schamisso, Newsy, Chicago.