By Alexander Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Trump administration abruptly rescinded a new rule that would have required international students enrolled in schools that will be conducted fully online for the fall quarter to leave the United States or transfer to another school with in-person instruction. This directive had been set to take effect on July 15 and would have subjected international students who failed to comply with the regulations to immigration sanctions such as deportation. This rule also would have prevented the State Department from issuing any visas to international students currently overseas who wished to study at a school or program operating entirely online.
Seventeen states, including Washington, had joined a lawsuit filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that sought to block the implementation of this rule. The Trump administration originally published these rule changes immediately after Harvard announced that all of its courses will be offered online this fall in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
At a hearing in federal court in Boston on July 14, U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs announced that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had reached an agreement with the two schools to reverse the rule change and return to the previous status quo involving international students.
On July 13, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson had filed a separate motion in federal court in Seattle, seeking a temporary restraining order on the Trump administration’s revocation of international student visas. Ferguson argued that the now rescinded rule change would have severely hampered this state’s colleges and universities.
“The rule harms nearly every Washington state higher education institution, reduces state revenues, and threatens public health and safety. Approximately 27,000 international students attend higher education institutions in Washington state and spend approximately $1 billion in state each year.”
Bellevue College sent a message approving of the rule’s rescission on its official Twitter account.
“When we work together to take action, change is possible. The support for international students and education was made clear, and a potentially harmful policy was reversed.”
Ana Mari Cauce, the president of the University of Washington (UW), applauded the reversal as well.
“This news is extremely welcome to both the UW and to our international students who should never have been asked to choose between their safety and their education.”
The UW alone has 8,300 international students. A 2017 report from the Student and Exchange Visitor Information indicated that 77% of international students arrived from Asian countries. A 2018 report from the same entity showed that 49% of all international students hailed from either China or India.
International students had become a wedge issue in the political debate over whether schools can safely reopen this fall. Acting Deputy Secretary of DHS Ken Cuccinelli originally defended the dropped-rule change in an interview with CNN.
“If [schools] don’t reopen this semester, there isn’t a reason for a person holding a student visa to be present in the country. They should go home and then they can return when the school opens. That’s what student visas are for.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal had characterized the now rescinded regulations as xenophobic in a bicameral letter that she sent to the ICE and the DHS with Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Jayapal celebrated the news concerning the policy reversal on her Twitter feed.
“A victory not only for students but for the campuses, communities, and country they contribute so much to. Thanks to all of you who joined me in standing up and speaking out-YOU made this happen. Let’s never stop fighting back against this admin’s cruel and xenophobic attacks.”
Advocates for international students have long been at odds with the Trump administration over policy, even before the announcement and subsequent reversal of these guidelines. On June 3, the DHS submitted a proposed rule for review that would establish a fixed period for which international students could legally stay in the United States.
Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.