The Trump Administration's International Student Policy and Harvard and MIT Lawsuit Explained

At the beginning of the month, the Trump Administration put a new international student policy into effect that caused an uproar throughout the United States. The policy canceled a temporary policy put in place when President Trump declared the State of Emergency in March. Here are the facts:

  • Monday, July 6th: The International Student Policy was put into effect. This policy would force students on visas to make a tough decision: either return to their home country if their school was holding only on-line courses or transfer to a college or university that had a hybrid curriculum - a mix of online and in-person courses. This ruling affected students of all ages, from grade school to university age.

  • Wednesday, July 8th: Harvard & MIT filed lawsuits in the U.S. District Court in Boston. Colleges and universities in 20 other states followed suit.

  • Tuesday, July 14th: The new International Student Policy was rescinded by the Trump Administration.

For about a week, students with visas were afraid of deportation and schools were trying to figure out a way to protect their students. There are around 1 million international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities each year. Of those 1 million, 5,000 go to Harvard and 4,000 go to MIT. Since March, schools went virtual to protect students and faculty from Covid-19. At that time, a temporary policy was put into place allowing international students to take online courses, which is normally prohibited with a visa. Although the temporary policy is back in place and students can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they can remain in the States legally and continue their education, there is still confusion as to why the policy was changed.

There was a lot of backlash and lawsuits were filed following the announcement of the July policy. In their lawsuits, Harvard and MIT claimed that the policy was negligent and unjustified. With schools across the country trying to work out how they will reopen in the fall, some schools, including those in Massachusetts, are planning to remain virtual until they deem it safe. If the July policy had remained, many students may have been deported to repressive countries where they would have been faced with limited and restrictive internet access and time differences. While the reasons behind the policy are still unclear, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said to CNN that there was no basis for international students to be in the States if they would be taking all of their classes online. People speculated that this was a way for President Trump to push his immigration agenda and to force schools to reopen before they were ready.

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