ICE Rescinds International Student Visa Threat

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By Eddie Lo

Contributing Writer

After facing lawsuits from multiple states and universities, including the University of California (UC) and the State of California, the Federal government has rescinded the order which barred international students from residing in the United States if they have no in-person classes to attend. Now, students who take only online courses will still be able to legally stay in the United States.

Judge Allison Burroughs of the U.S. District Court in Boston announced on Tuesday that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have agreed to rescind the policy, just before the court is expected to hear a case on the issue.

ICE initially announced on July 6 that international students may not remain in the United States if they are taking only online classes, and visas would not be issued to them. This order pushed international students currently in the United States to either depart the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction and warned of consequences, such as deportation. The announcement modified the previous emergency procedures issued in March, which allowed the international students taking only online classes to remain in the U.S. due to the “extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 emergency.”

The July 6 directive immediately faced backlash. Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology immediately sued the government, backed by more than 200 schools, and UC announced that they will file a separate lawsuit. The District of Columbia and eighteen states, including California, also promptly declared a lawsuit.

“It is illegal, unnecessary, and callous,” said UC President Janet Napolitano in a press release last week, referring to the July 6 policy.

There are over 41,200 international students enrolled in the University of California system and over 4,000 international students at UC Santa Barbara who could have been affected by the policy as the UC system has increased online instruction and decreased in-person classes.

Under the policy, many international students would have had to depart the U.S. and would have risked being exposed to COVID-19 during their travels, many through trans-oceanic flights.

The policy also could have worsened the UC system’s financial troubles. Due to COVID-19, UC has suffered a $558 million loss in March alone. Of many reasons cited, a lack of revenue from dormitory and dining contracts is prominent. 

International students pay more than twice the amount of tuition compared to California residents, and the policy could have potentially pushed international students to transfer, take gap years, or give up their studies overall. 

ICE initially defended its policy by stating it aims to “maximize flexibility for students to continue their studies, while minimizing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 by not admitting students into the country who do not need to be present to attend classes in-person.” 

DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli also told CNN last week that the policy was meant to encourage schools to reopen, resonating with the Trump administration’s goal to return American life to pre-COVID times.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was critical of the consequences the measures would have taken. “Shame on the Trump administration for risking not only the education opportunities for students who earned the chance to go to college but now their health and well-being as well,” said Becerra.

He assured that the state will stand up for its international population and protect their interests. “No one graduates more students from college or assembles a more talented and diverse group of future leaders than California. Today’s lawsuit rests on America’s enduring principle that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules can earn a chance to get ahead,” said Becerra.

The July 14th announcement came as quite a welcoming turn of events as international students may now remain in the U.S. to continue their higher education.

Supplementary research provided by Zoe Jia, National Beat Reporter.

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