Trump retreats from threat to deport international students

Sued by universities, administration ends plan to evict foreigners whose campuses stay online

July 14, 2020
White House
Source: iStock

The Trump administration has retreated from a threat to evict international students whose campuses offered online-only tuition during the coronavirus pandemic this autumn, under heavy pressure from US universities and beyond.

The administration agreed to pull back from its position after being sued in federal court by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which were subsequently joined by 200 other institutions and at least 17 states.

The climbdown was announced by US District Court Judge Allison Burroughs, who had been hearing arguments in the case and was due to announce a ruling on it.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, the main US higher education lobby group, said the withdrawal of the “wrong-headed” directive would “facilitate the reopening of colleges and universities” this autumn.

“All of higher education, the business community and many others across our nation are making it clear that these students continue to be welcome here,” he said.

The case marked a high-stakes showdown after years of increasingly aggressive and hostile treatment of immigrants by the Trump administration.

US colleges warned of a dire threat to the $45 billion (£36 billion) that international students contribute to the US economy, while Donald Trump followed up his planned visa restrictions with a threat to cancel the tax-exempt status of institutions that he accuses of indoctrinating students.

Under the latest directive, international students would have been forced to leave the US if their university moved fully online for even a short period of time this autumn, and they would have been required to attend in-person classes if their college offered them.

US colleges already were facing deep financial pain resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, with domestic students unhappy about online formats and foreign freshmen largely unable to enter the country because of travel restrictions.

Several reports citing administration officials said the White House would now seek to have its proposed visa restrictions apply to new international students.

The more immediate concern, however, had been the international students currently in the US. The Institute of International Education has estimated that some 92 per cent of foreign students remained in the US after their classes went online this spring. US colleges typically host more than 1 million students from overseas each year.

The Trump administration made clear that it was creating the new visa restriction as part of its broader strategy to force a quick revival of US economic activity, even as coronavirus cases surge across large parts of the country.

Announcing the plan last week, a spokeswoman for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement service said some changes were possible ahead of final implementation.

But US colleges, in filing suit against the action, said it was far too late in the year to impose such major changes in terms for the institutions and their students.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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