Bowing to pressure from immigration groups and more than 200 colleges across the country, the Trump administration has rescinded a rule that prevented foreign students from taking online-only courses. The rule would have required foreigners with student visas to attend at least one in-person class.
Many schools are holding classes only online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The rule would have meant that thousands of students would have had to leave the U.S. or transfer to another school that was holding in-person classes.
According to another source, the White House is now focused on having the rule apply only to new students, rather than students already in the US. The White House declined to comment on an ongoing policy process.
According to US District Judge Allison Burroughs, the administration will return to the policy that was in effect in March, which provided more flexibility for students enrolled in schools that switched to all-online courses because of the pandemic.
For now, though, the move to drop the policy is a reprieve for more than 1 million international students in the US. In the last week, students had expressed frustration and concern over their next steps, as universities and colleges announced decisions to move all courses online.
It was already illegal to hold a student visa and attend online-only classes. The rule was meant to inhibit fraudsters from taking advantage of the pandemic. But it became clear that many of the more than one million foreign students studying in the U.S. were at risk of being sent home because, through no fault of their own, their school had decided to hold online-only classes.
Visa requirements for students have always been strict and coming to the US to take online-only courses has been prohibited. ICE maintained that prohibition in its July 6 guidance, while providing some flexibility for hybrid models, meaning a mix of online and in-person classes.
The agency suggested that students currently enrolled in the US consider other options, like transferring to schools with in-person instruction.
“If a school isn’t going to open or if they’re going to be 100% online, then we wouldn’t expect people to be here for that,” acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told CNN’s Brianna Keilar last week.
Some are questioning the president’s motive in proposing the rule in the first place.
Attorney General Maura Healey told WBZ she believes the administration’s motive for the initial order was to force reopening during the pandemic. “I think the president had an idea that he wanted the country to appear in September that things were on an upswing, one way to do that is that colleges and universities are back open, students are back on campus, everything is fine,” she explained.
There are probably ways to hold many classes in person and take safety precautions. Large lectures are out of the question, but there are many classes that could be limited in size and social distancing practiced. Those kids who wanted to wear a mask could do so.
I don’t hear Harvard, or MIT, or any other school offering a tuition refund for forcing kids to stay home. As soon as that happens, they can question Trump’s motives for trying to prevent fraud in student visas.