In a swift reversal of guidance first shared just eight days ago, the Trump administration on Tuesday abandoned plans to impose new limitations on the conditions under which international students can remain in the country to study at U.S. colleges and universities.
Under a policy announced July 6, students would be stripped of or denied student visas if their coursework was entirely online, an abrupt shift that threatened to impact the lives of the nearly 5,000 international students at Johns Hopkins and more than 1 million across the country.
Johns Hopkins filed a legal challenge to the policy last week and had a hearing on the matter scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Today's announcement that the policy had been rescinded was made during a hearing of a similar complaint filed by Harvard and MIT, a case in which JHU filed an amicus brief. It reinstates an earlier policy implemented in March that allows international students with student visas to take all their classes online and remain in the country legally.
Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels said in a message to the university community Tuesday night that Hopkins would leave its complaint open for now, but acknowledged it might be moot. The return to an earlier policy does however cast doubt on the ability of new and transfer students outside the U.S. to come to the country to begin studies.
"For generations, the world's most innovative and ambitious people have flocked to this nation for the opportunities it offers," Daniels wrote. "America's colleges and universities have been a beacon for those whose talent and drive have fueled the discoveries that foster social progress and create economic opportunity, including thousands of jobs.
"I want to thank all those in our community who spoke out against this unjust, capricious, and cruel policy," he added. "Many of our students who faced the prospect of being forced to uproot their lives and leave this country came forward courageously to tell their stories to the court. They exemplify the truth that welcoming international scholars makes this country stronger."
Last week's policy change by ICE and the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program, or SEVP came as colleges and universities grapple with decisions about how to safely resume instructional and other activities this fall in the midst of a pandemic, and as COVID-19 cases climb across much of the country.
JHU's plans for fall are based on months of careful deliberations and guidance from experts in medicine and public health as the university seeks to balance educational considerations with a commitment to safeguard the health of its faculty, staff, and students. Johns Hopkins' situation is complicated by the fact approaches to fall instruction will vary by program, with some planning entirely online courses and others—including the undergraduate program—planning a hybrid approach with a mix of online-only and in-person offerings. Those programs may be forced to revert to online-only instruction with little notice should the public health situation deteriorate.
The rule would have applied to holders of two types of visas, including F-1 visas, which allow nonimmigrant students to pursue academic coursework in the U.S. The U.S. has the largest international student population in the world, with more than 1 million of the nation's higher education students—roughly 5.5% of all college students in the U.S.—coming from abroad, according to the nonprofit Institute of International Education.
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