Government walks back rule change on international students

Gavel and law books

The Trump administration has abandoned a plan that would have limited the ability of international students to study in the U.S., just days after the University of Oregon and 19 other schools filed a federal lawsuit challenging the move.

The reversal helped resolve another suit, filed earlier by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and seeking a preliminary injunction to block the change. The agreement reinstates an earlier policy in which the administration allowed international students to remain in the country when classes are moved entirely online to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Multiple lawsuits were filed after the administration rescinded that policy and said international students could not come to or remain in the U.S. if universities held all classes online. The UO was the lead plaintiff in one of those lawsuits, which was filed Monday, July 13, in U.S. District Court in Eugene.

The suit sought a temporary restraining order against the proposed rule, issued on July 6 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security. The nationwide rule would have subjected students studying in the U.S. on educational visas to deportation should their studies pivot to remote-based instruction as a public health protection measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The suit challenged the federal agency’s action as arbitrary and capricious, alleging it was issued without even the most minimal attempt to address its consequences to hundreds of thousands of students and the thousands of colleges and universities that educate them.

The Trump administration announced the shift earlier this month in a reversal of previous temporary guidance that had allowed international students’ education to not be disrupted by online education during the pandemic. The new rules would have forced international students to return to their home countries within 15 days if they are enrolled solely in classes taught online.

“The government’s reckless and arbitrary action not only harms these students, but also robs institutions of higher education of the autonomy and flexibility to adapt models of instruction to meet the urgent needs posed by a global pandemic,” members of the coalition said in a written statement.

In the suit, UO Dean and Vice Provost for Global Engagement Dennis Galvan provided a declaration outlining how the “significant, immediate, and irreparable negative impacts on University of Oregon students and the University of Oregon as an institution” would suffer if the government adopted the ICE rules.

“International students are vital to the University of Oregon’s success in research, teaching, and in building diverse and inclusive communities," Galvan said after the reversal was annnounced. "Our efforts and those of peers across the U.S. made it abundantly clear that the July 6 guidance would inflict gratuitous and irreversible harm to these students.”

The UO had 1,871 international undergraduate and graduate students at the institution last year. International students also make up a portion of graduate students who also contribute to teaching and research at the university.

The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation spoke out against the guidance and urged the UO to support international students. In a statement, GTFF local 3544 said it welcomed the role the UO took.

The universities that joined the UO in the lawsuit were the University of Southern California, Oregon State University, Arizona State University, California Institute of Technology, Chapman University, Claremont McKenna College, Northern Arizona University, Pitzer College, Pomona College, Santa Clara University, Scripps College, Seattle University, Stanford University, St. Mary’s College of California, University of Arizona, University of the Pacific, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco and University of Utah.

—By Jennifer Winters, University Communications