US F1 and M1 student visa online only course rule rescinded!

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US CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan and USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli testifying at Senate Committee 13 November 2019

CBP Photo by Glenn Fawcett / US Government

Comments by Sanwar Ali:

It is good news that the Trump administration has now seen sense.  It seems to be very odd that, previously, the Trump administration and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) decided, that online only studying that was done to slow the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, should result in some F1 visa and M1 visa students having to leave the US.   Until there is an effective vaccine, surely remote studying and where possible remote working should be encouraged.  

It seems some of the time any excuse is being used to reduce levels of immigration into the US.  The heads of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and the USCIS Department Ken Cuccinelli are both immigration hardliners.   So is one of Trump’s most senior advisers Stephen Miller.  An obsession to find ways to reduce immigration has resulted in unreasonable behaviour by the Trump administration.

The UK has been accused of treating Tier 4 visa students and others harshly in the past.  However, compared to the US the situation for students is much better in the UK.  There was even talk that F1 visa students thrown out of the US should come to the UK on Tier 4 visas.  In the UK Tier 4 visa students have much greater freedom to work than students in the US.

A little over a week after US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students whose classes moved fully online would have to leave the US or switch courses, the Trump administration has backtracked on the policy following a series of lawsuits filed by US universities.

A lawsuit filed by the USA’s oldest university, Harvard, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was heard in a federal court, which announced the Trump administration’s decision.

Massachusetts judge, Allison Burroughs, said that the request made by the universities to block the rule was moot because the government scrapped the policy.

Department of Homeland Security sued over previous online only rule

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had been sued by 18 state attorney generals over the rule, which would have forced international students, enrolled in online only courses, to switch to a university that offered in-person classes, leave the US voluntarily or face deportation.

The move to force F1 and M1 international students to attend classes in person comes at a time when health experts fear a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks across the US. Some universities had taken the decision to make classes fully remote in the interests of protecting students and staff.

The federal court announced that the Trump administration had agreed to switch back to a previous rule, implemented in March, when the coronavirus pandemic caused shutdowns across the country. Under that policy, international students were given permission to attend all classes online during the pandemic. 

The new rule, announced on July 6 by ICE, would have been a major blow to students and universities alike.

Soaring COVID-19 infections in the US

Despite rising coronavirus cases across the US, the Trump administration introduced the tougher immigration policy as part of efforts to force K-12 schools and universities to reopen in the fall.

ICE’s announcement on July 6 sparked outrage among educators and lawmakers, who argued that the policy ‘threatened to upend the careful planning made by universities and the estimated 1 million international students who attend US colleges each year.

Even while the Trump administration revelled in the change, several leaders in higher education hit back at the controversial rule.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, a group of research universities, said: “We will continue, during this unprecedented time of global pandemic, to be vigilant against efforts by the administration to harm international students or force universities into rushed and unreasonable decisions regarding in-person instruction.”

Coalition fights back against previous ICE rule preventing online only studying

The fight against the ICE rule saw a large coalition of governments, colleges and businesses come together to challenge the policy.

Led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the states' lawsuit sought an injunction to prevent the rule coming into force while the matter was litigated.

Healey filed the lawsuit in the US District Court in Massachusetts, along with attorney generals from Colorado, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Harvard and MIT filed a similar challenge shortly after ICE’s announcement, which was backed by several other universities.

A number of major US tech firms, alongside several other businesses, joined the fight against the ruling. The US Chamber of Commerce, Google and Facebook waded into the battle, submitting court papers that argued that the rule would lead to “serious adverse economic consequences.”

“America’s future competitiveness rests on attracting and retaining talented international students,” the companies argued.

Martin Aragoneses, an economics graduate student at Harvard and from Spain, said: “International students benefit from studying and researching in the US, but they also help enrich it.”

Commenting on the Trump administration’s decision, Mr Aragoneses, said that he was ‘incredibly relieved and happy’ and that he, along with other international students, would stand against any policy that makes it harder for foreigners to study and work in the US – including Trump’s temporary US work visa ban.

Damage to communities would have been caused by previous ICE rule

Local communities would have suffered as a result of the rule because of tuition fees and other revenue from foreign students being lost.

Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut tweeted: “Something to cheer about! ICE backing off new regulations for international students!! Now let’s make the fall semester as potent and safe as possible.”

Eduardo Ochoa, president of California State University Monterey Bay, took to Twitter, saying: “International students enrich the educational experience for all.”

The Trump administration’s decision to rescind the rule means that universities will be able to open much quicker, according to Terry Hartle, senior vice president with the American Council on Education, which represents the nation’s colleges.

Hartle said: “College leaders will be able to think about what practices are best for all students. The order would have put so much attention on international students that broader questions about reopening could have been pushed to the side.”

However, despite the Trump administration back tracking on the rule, Hartle expects their to be a decline in international students coming to the US for the next university year. Hartle said: “Some students may not be able to get a visa before the start of the fall semester due, for instance, to embassy and consulate closures from the pandemic.”

In the 2018-19 academic year, the number of international students studying in the US reached 1.1 million, according to the Institute of International Education. International students reportedly represent 5.5% of the total US higher education population.

Meanwhile, according to data from the US Department of Commerce, foreign students contributed nearly $45 billion to the US economy.

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