The Trump administration has walked back a policy that would have stripped international college students of their U.S. visas if their coursework was entirely online, ending a proposed plan that had thrown the higher education world into turmoil.
The policy, announced on July 6, prompted an immediate lawsuit from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and on Tuesday, the government and the universities reached a resolution, according to the judge overseeing the case.
The agreement reinstates a policy implemented in March amid the pandemic that gave international students the flexibility to take all their classes online and remain legally in the country with student visas.
“Both the policy directive and the frequently asked questions would not be enforced anyplace” under the resolution, Judge Allison Burroughs said, adding that the agreement applied nationwide.
The initial guidance, issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, would have required foreign students to take at least one in-person class or leave the country. Students who returned to their home countries when schools closed in March would not have been allowed back into the United States if their fall classes were solely online.
The higher education world was thrown into disarray, with most colleges already well into planning for the return to campus in the fall. Two days after it was announced, Harvard and M.I.T. filed the first of several lawsuits seeking to stop it.
The attorneys general of at least 18 states, including Massachusetts and California, also sued, charging that the policy was reckless, cruel and senseless. Scores of universities threw their support behind the litigation, along with organizations representing international students.
On Tuesday, more than a dozen technology companies, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, also came out in support of the Harvard and M.I.T. lawsuit, arguing the policy would harm their businesses.
“America’s future competitiveness depends on attracting and retaining talented international students,” the companies said in court papers.