Trump Administration Rescinds Directive on International Students Following Swift and Fierce Response from Higher Ed, Students, States, and Others

Michael V. Reilly |
July 16, 2020
  • Advocacy
  • Campus Safety
  • Compliance and Reporting
  • Immigration
  • International
  • International Admissions and Credential Evaluation
  • Online and Distance Learning
  • covid-19
  • Federal Regulations
  • Federal relations
  • in the courts
  • visa

The Trump administration on Tuesday rescinded its draconian policy that would have required  international students to attend in-person classes in the fall in order to remain in the country, following an outcry of opposition from the higher education community, students, state policymakers, tech companies, and many others. The policy, originally announced last week, was broadly viewed as an attempt to pressure colleges and universities to offer in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep their international students enrolled. 

AACRAO joined a broad coalition of 80 higher education associations in a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to strongly oppose the July 6 directive and request its immediate withdrawal. 

"We urge the administration to rethink its position and offer international students and institutions the flexibility necessary to safely navigate resuming their educational activities in the midst of this crisis in ways that take into account the health and safety of our students and staff in the upcoming academic year," the groups state in the letter. 

AACRAO, along with 70 other higher education groups, also filed a brief in support of the first of several legal challenges to the Trump administration's plan to require international students whose courses move entirely online to depart the country. Two days after the announcement of the directive, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit asking the U.S. District Court in Boston to block the new rule. The associations' amicus brief focused on the directive's "enormous, immediate and unconsidered hardships" for international students, their classmates, institutions, and communities.

Additionally, at least 20 states and the District of Columbia and over 20 universities filed various lawsuits to block the policy change from going into effect.  

During a hearing on Tuesday in the Harvard/MIT lawsuit, the federal judge presiding over the case announced that the Trump administration agreed to rescind the directive and return to guidance issued in March that allows international students to remain in the U.S. while taking a fully online course load.

AACRAO is proud of the swift action of the higher education community, as well as states and the business community as it highlights the importance of international students not only to colleges and universities but also to the entire nation. It also underscores the significance of protecting the health and safety of their students, faculty, and staff as institutions navigate resuming their educational activities in the midst of this crisis. 

We will continue to stand strong in our values and push for a community where all are valued and heard, and respect is expected and achieved.