WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's administration agreed Tuesday to rescind its controversial rule barring international students from living in the USA while taking fall classes online, a sharp reversal after the White House faced a slew of lawsuits challenging the policy.
A Massachusetts judge announced the decision during a federal court hearing in a case filed last week by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Judge Allison Burroughs said the universities' request for the court to block the rule was moot because the government agreed to rescind the policy.
Monday, 18 state attorneys general sued the Department of Homeland Security over the rule, which would have forced foreign students to leave or face deportation if they were enrolled in only online classes this fall, when experts fear expanded outbreaks of COVID-19 cases.
The court said the Trump administration agreed to revert to a previous rule, implemented in March, when the coronavirus pandemic caused shutdowns across the country. Under that policy, international students were allowed to attend all classes online during the pandemic.
Some universities plan to offer classes entirely online this fall because of concerns that college campuses could create coronavirus hot spots and add to the country's caseload. The new rule, issued July 6 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, would have been devastating for students and universities alike.
The Trump administration issued the tougher immigration policy as it seeks to push universities and K-12 schools to reopen in the fall despite soaring COVID-19 infections across the country.
School reopening plans have become political: Teachers fear for their safety.
Last week's shift enraged many educators and lawmakers, who said the policy threatened to upend careful planning by universities and the approximately 1 million foreign students who attend American colleges each year.
Led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Monday's lawsuit sought an injunction to stop the rule from taking effect while the matter was litigated.
Healey filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, along with attorneys general from Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin. Harvard and MIT filed a similar challenge last week, which was supported by several other universities.
Major U.S. technology companies and other businesses, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Google and Facebook, joined the legal fray Monday, arguing in court papers that the rule would have "serious adverse economic consequences."
"America's future competitiveness depends on attracting and retaining talented international students," the companies argued.
The rule could have dealt a major economic blow to colleges and universities, as well as the communities surrounding them, because of the loss of tuition and other revenue from international students, who typically pay full price.
The number of international students studying in the USA reached 1.1 million in the 2018-19 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education, and they make up 5.5% of the total U.S. higher education population.
International students contributed nearly $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump, ICE drop college student visa rule against online-only classes