Trump Administration Revokes Rule Requiring Foreign Students to Take In-Person Classes

Students walk to classes on the University of South Florida college campus quad in Tampa, Florida, USA on January 15, 2020. Photo and Caption: Leigh Trail/

International students can breathe a sigh of relief… for now.

The Trump administration has rescinded a rule that would have required international students to transfer schools or leave the country if their colleges hold classes entirely online this fall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. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the decision as a court hearing was getting underway on a challenge to the rule by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Federal immigration authorities on Monday, July 6 issued new guidelines saying foreign students who could not take classes in person would be forced to leave the United States or transfer to another college. The guidelines pressured universities to reopen despite growing concerns of spreading the coronavirus. It is believed the virus is spreading the fastest among young adults.

The guidance was received by colleges (including Harvard University) the same day the educational institutions made remote learning available to its student body.

President responded to many staff and student concerns by insisting schools and colleges return to in-person teaching as soon as possible. President Trump has said schools remaining closed in the fall is more of a political issue; Democrats want to keep schools closed “for political reasons, not for health concerns”, according to President Trump. 

Image by Nikolay Georgiev from Pixabay 

There are more than 30,000 international students across Florida that are enrolled in state universities, according to the State University System. As part of the policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told colleges to notify the agency no later than Wednesday, July 15 if they planned to hold all classes online this fall. 

Other colleges had until August 1 to share their fall plans with ICE.

The rule had made many foreign students nervous about their school status in the United States. And it generated a huge push back at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa, where close to 5,000 international students are enrolled. According to the Institute of International Education, there were 1,095,299 international students in the U.S. in 2019, the fourth consecutive year that sum reached more than 1 million.

“As college students, sometimes it feels like our voices get drowned out, but it feels great that we made a difference and we were heard,” said Nirun Kumaresan, president of American Cultured Desi, a student group focused on South Asian issues at USF.  “This is huge for people at USF and the multicultural community.”

Many student’s native countries were not going to permit them to return right now due to travel restrictions because of the coronavirus.

The reversal decision came just in time for the government’s July 15 deadline for universities to submit a change of plans. It marks one of the few times the Trump White House has not gone forward with implementing a major immigration-related policy without first being ordered to do so by a judge.