The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to rescind its policy that prohibits international students from keeping their student visas if they only take online courses, the Harvard Crimson reported Tuesday.
ICE will revert back to its guidelines rolled out in March, according to the report. Those guidelines allowed international students to keep their student visas, even if they weren't enrolled in in-person classes.
Breaking: The government has agreed to rescind DHS and ICE rules barring international students attending online universities from staying in the U.S., per a hearing this afternoon in Harvard and MIT's lawsuit against the agencies.— The Harvard Crimson (@thecrimson) July 14, 2020
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University filed a lawsuit in a District Court in Boston last week against DHS and ICE for the new guidelines.
The now-rescinded federal guidelines mandated international students enroll in at least one-credit hour of in-person classes at their respective universities to stay in the United States. At the University of Kansas, administrators planned to have in-person, online and hybrid classes for the fall semester.
“This is a great moment for international students,” said Hollie Hall, the chair of the international student advisory committee at KU and president of KU International Grads. “It demonstrates that higher education appreciates us, believes in us, sees our worth, and they put their money behind that.”
“I think that a lot of international students are feeling really relieved over that fact that our health can be paramount, whilst we study in this country and whilst we’re here,” Hall, a Ph.D. student from London, continued. “I think it shows that a lot of people in this country really appreciate us being here and stood up for us while we needed it most. And we’re thankful for that.”
Chancellor Douglas Girod previously said in a statement KU would “stand firm against federal pressure” that would compromise the University’s plan to maintain health and safety as the priority into the fall semester.
“This new policy is also likely to further damage our nation’s universities, which are already struggling with unprecedented uncertainty and financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Girod said. “To put it plainly, blocking and possibly expelling international students in the middle of their studies is inhumane, serves no one’s interests, and would set back the United States’ ability to attract the brightest minds to study here.”
International students at KU were frustrated and confused when ICE first released its policy requiring in-person classes to keep student visas. Sharif Tusuubira, a Ph.D. student from Kampala, Uganda, would not be able to go back home if he were forced to leave because Uganda has closed its borders to travel, he said.
“If we’re in a situation where we’ve gone to online [classes] and we have to go back home, but can’t get home, it could bring a lot of psychological stress and torture just thinking about the options we have,” Tusuubira said.
Other students on the International Student Advisory Committee expressed concerns about going back to their home countries since they’ve built a life and career in Lawrence.
“We have been making so many sacrifices. We were invited to come here and study, but also to share our culture and create diversity and provide a more well-rounded education for everyone,” said Hipatia Medina-Ágreda, a Ph.D. student from Tamaulipas, Mexico. “We have invested so many years of studying. I can’t just get my stuff and leave.”
Before ICE rescinded its policy, KU administrators were prepared to find solutions for international students and were navigating different avenues to do so, said Charlie Bankart, vice provost for international affairs.
“This has probably been one of the most tumultuous periods from a student immigration perspective that we’ve had in decades, and from my perspective we have a really good team at KU,” Bankart said. “We are galvanized, we are together as a community and we are going to work against this together.”