US universities forced Trump administration to retreat on foreign students



President Donald Trump-led administration gave up within 5 minutes of the start of arguments in a federal court in Boston on Tuesday, and to the relief of hundreds of US universities and their hundreds of thousands of international students including many from India, its lawyer told the judge they were rescinding the controversial order issued last week.

As a result of rescinding of the order, foreign students in US will not be asked to leave if they are enrolled at a university that offered only online classes for the upcoming fall semester because of Covid-19 lockdown. Additionally, no one will be have to switch course or university for in-person classes to stay “in-status”, as the administration had ordered on July 6.

“The government has agreed to rescind the July 6 2020 policy directive and the frequently asked questions, the FAQs, that were released the next day on July 7,” district court judge Allison D. Burroughs said just as the hearing started. “They also agreed to rescind any implementation of the directive.”

She added that the administration will go back to its March guideline, which allowed foreign students to stay and pursue their studies through online courses as colleges and universities had begun shutting down due to the Covid-19 disease outbreak sweeping through the country. US continues to remain the worst affected by the pandemic globally with 3,434,636 infection cases and 1,36,699 deaths, as recorded by Johns Hopkins university

The Harvard Crimson, a campus news publication of Harvard, which was a joint plaintiff with MIT, reported that the judge also said the parties had reached an agreement within five minutes of the start of the arguments.

An estimated 1 million international students are enrolled in US colleges and universities every year. They are a significant source of revenue for the colleges, generating economic activity worth around $41 billion and supporting 450,000 jobs alongside. After China, US sees second largest student population from India — with around 200,000 in all at present — ahead of Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Canada.

The July 6 order from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had come “out of the blue”, as one Indian student had then said, shaken, confused and scared as all other foreign students. Universities had been caught in the final planning stages for the fall, as they had weighed options and models for reopening with new Covid-19 infections surging around the country again.

Harvard had announced the same day on July 6, its fall courses will be taught online entirely. And just hours later, it discovered its students will be forced to either leave the country because of new directive from the Trump administration or switch to another university that offered a hybrid of in-person and online classes. Trump had directed his ire at Harvard, saying, the next day, its plans were “ridiculous” and that it had taken the “easy way out”.

“This is a significant victory,” Lawrence S Bacow, president of Harvard University, wrote in an email to affiliates, after the court announcement Tuesday. “I have heard from countless international students who said that the July 6 directive had put them at serious risk. These students – our students — can now rest easier and focus on their education, which is all they ever wanted to do,” Bacow said.

“It’s deeply encouraging that this case has inspired so much reflection about and enthusiastic recognition of the vital role international students play in academic communities across the United States – and absolutely at MI,” MIT president L Rafael Reif wrote in a note to the campus community. He added, taking a swipe at the administration, “This case also made clear that real lives are at stake in these ‘bureaucratic’ matters, with the potential for real harm. We need to approach policy making, especially now, with more humanity, more decency – not less.”

Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit had been joined by more than 200 other universities and some states, which reflected the size and the swiftness of the blowback to the administration’s order.

Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator and former presidential candidate, slammed the ICE order as a “dangerous & xenophobic #StudentBan policy”. The reference here was to other travel bans the president has ordered targeting people from certain countries, such as the “Muslim travel man”.


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