In a rare and swift immigration policy reversal, the Trump administration on Tuesday bowed to snowballing opposition from universities, Silicon Valley and 20 states and abandoned a plan to strip international college students of their visas if they did not attend at least some classes in person.
The policy, which would have subjected foreign students to deportation if they did not show up for class on campus, had thrown the higher education world into turmoil at a time when universities are grappling with whether to reopen campuses during the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. officials announced last week that international students at schools that had moved to online-only classes due to the coronavirus pandemic would have to leave the country if they were unable to transfer to a college with at least some in-person instruction.
The government said it would drop the plan amid a legal challenge brought by universities. But a senior U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official said the administration still intended to issue a regulation in the coming weeks addressing whether foreign students can remain in the United States if their classes move online.
“If they’re not going to be a student or they’re going to be 100 percent online, then they don’t have a basis to be here,” Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in an interview on CNN after the policy was announced. “They should go home, and then they can return when the school opens.”
Each year, about 1 million international students enroll in American universities. They contribute $41 billion to the economy annually and support more than 458,000 jobs.