Foreign students at local colleges relieved they won’t have to put ‘safety at risk’ after rule barring them from taking online-only courses rescinded

The Trump administration rule would have required international students to transfer schools or leave the country if their colleges hold classes entirely online this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

SHARE Foreign students at local colleges relieved they won’t have to put ‘safety at risk’ after rule barring them from taking online-only courses rescinded
A woman walks on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

International students in Chicago reacted with relief Tuesday after the Trump administration rescinded a rule that would have required them to transfer or leave the country if their schools held classes entirely online because of the pandemic.

The decision was announced at the start of a hearing in a federal lawsuit in Boston brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and joined by local schools including the University of Illinois, Chicago, Northwestern and DePaul. U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs said federal immigration authorities agreed to pull the July 6 directive and “return to the status quo.”

A lawyer representing the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said only that the judge’s characterization was correct.

The announcement was welcomed by thousands of foreign students who had been at risk of being deported from the country, along with hundreds of universities that were scrambling to reassess their plans for the fall in light of the policy. More than 50,000 international students attend schools in Illinois.

“I’m feeling like a lot of things are clearer now,” said Laurisa Sastoque, a rising sophomore at Northwestern from Colombia. “I feel that I have a choice again, and I am no longer forced to put my safety at risk.”

Tanisha Tekriwal, also a rising sophomore at Northwestern from India, said she is happy that universities stood up for their students and got results, although she realizes it was as much to protect schools’ finances as to protect the students. Many schools rely on higher tuition from international students, and some stood to lose millions of dollars in revenue if the rule had taken hold.

Rising DePaul senior Jessica Camacho, who is from Ecuador, said the move was “definitely a weight off my shoulders now that I don’t have to look for open in-person classes, as most of my major classes were offered online [and] my plans would be to finish this quarter.”

Carol Hughes, a spokeswoman for DePaul University said the rule had created a “precarious situation” for students.

“International students have the same needs, fears and concerns as all other students when considering how to continue their education in the fall and should be allowed the same flexibility, with their health and safety as primary concerns,” she said in a statement.

Under the policy, international students in the U.S. would have been forbidden from taking all their courses online this fall. New visas would not have been issued to students at schools planning to provide all classes online. Students already in the U.S. would have faced deportation if they didn’t transfer schools or leave the country voluntarily.

Immigration officials issued the policy last week, reversing earlier guidance from March 13 telling colleges that limits around online education would be suspended during the pandemic. University leaders believed the rule was part of President Donald Trump’s effort to pressure the nation’s schools and colleges to reopen this fall even as new virus cases rise.

At least seven other federal suits had been filed by universities and states opposing the rule, including one joined by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Harvard and MIT argued that immigration officials violated procedural rules by issuing the guidance without justification and without allowing the public to respond. They also argued that the policy contradicted ICE’s March 13 directive telling schools that existing limits on online education would be suspended “for the duration of the emergency.”

The suit noted that Trump’s national emergency declaration has not been rescinded and that virus cases are spiking in some regions.

Immigration officials, however, argued that they told colleges all along that any guidance prompted by the pandemic was subject to change. They said the rule was consistent with existing law barring international students from taking classes entirely online.

Collin Binkley is a reporter for the Associated Press. Jade Yan is a Sun-Times staff reporter. Manny Ramos contributed to this report.

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