ICE Rescinds Rule Banning International Students from Remote Education

The Trump administration has rescinded an unpopular policy announcement made last week after a lawsuit was filed by Harvard and MIT.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced last week that foreign students on temporary F-1 and M-1 visas would not be able to remain in the US if their school programs switched to 100% online classes for the fall semester. Colleges and universities nationwide have been working hard to determine their individual plans and policies for re-opening in the fall in response to rising COVID-19 cases and safety concerns. 

ICE’s proposed new regulation stated that foreign students attending US colleges would be required to leave the US if their school opted to move fully online in response to the ongoing pandemic. Students whose schools chose a “hybrid plan” which included some in-person and some online courses would be allowed to remain in the US as long as the student enrolled in at least one in-person class.

Immediately following the announcement, educational institutions spoke out against the new rule, arguing that it would have negative effects on their school and students. Politicians and Silicon Valley businesses also joined in to express their dissatisfaction with the administration’s decision. Dozens of lawsuits were filed over the past week, which ultimately resulted in the department agreeing to abandon the new restrictions.

The policy change expanding online course options for international students that was announced in mid-March will now be extended through the next semester. 

At the beginning of the spread of COVID-19 in the US, colleges and universities adjusted the standard policy for international students and allowed them to remain in the US even though college campuses were forced to close and courses were moved online. The administration has now agreed to extend this rule so that international students are not forced to abandon their studies, transfer schools, or leave the US. While the standard policy has always been to require primarily in-person attendance for international students, the new and unprecedented concerns surrounding COVID-19 have made the status quo unsafe.

Despite this victory for international students, officials are expecting a record low number of foreign students enrolled in US universities in the fall. Due to embassy and consulate closures, widespread travel bans, and significant delays in visa processing, it will be difficult for new students and anyone who is not already in the US to be approved for entry.

Those who may be eligible to change, extend, or adjust their nonimmigrant status during this time are encouraged to seek assistance from an immigration professional.