US President Donald Trump drops ban on ‘Online Only’ international students whose courses move fully online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U-turn or reversal comes just one week after the policy announcement.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sued the federal government over the plan.

District Judge Allison Burroughs in Massachusetts says both parties have come to a settlement.

The agreement reinstates a policy implemented in March, amidst the coronavirus outbreak, which allows foreign students to attend their classes virtually if necessary and remain legally in the U.S on student visas.

Large numbers of international students travel to the United States to study every year and are a significant source of revenue for universities.

Harvard announced had earlier announced that, because of concerns over the virus’s spread, course instruction would be delivered online when students return for the new academic session. MIT, like a number of other post-secondary institutions, said it would also continue to use virtual tuition.

What had Policy Said?

International students were told last week that they would not be allowed to stay in the United States this autumn unless they change to a course with in-person tuition.

Those who had returned to their country of origin when the term ended in March – as the coronavirus pandemic crisis grew – were told they would not be allowed to return if their classes had since moved online.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency had said students could face deportation if they did not follow or comply with the rules.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which is managed by ICE, had originally permitted international students to continue with their spring and summer 2020 courses online while staying in the country.

But on 6 July the agency said international students who then failed to change to in-person courses could face deportation.

How Did Universities React?

Some days later, Harvard and MIT filed the first of several lawsuits seeking to reverse the directive, calling it “capricious, arbitrary, an abuse of discretion”.

Dozens of other universities in the U.S signed a court brief to support the action.

The “true motivation,” the fifty-nine (59) universities argued in their supportive brief, “has nothing to do with ensuring that foreign students engage in a ‘full course of study’ or with protecting the integrity of the student visa program. Instead, it aims… is to ‘encourage schools to reopen.'”

The attorneys general of at least eighteen (18) states, including California and Massachusetts, also sued.

President Donald Trump has been pushing for university students to return to classrooms in the new term.

He sees reopening as an indicator of recovery after months of disruptions, which could be highly beneficial in his bid for reelection in November.

However, many education specialists are concerned about student wellbeing and want to continue practising physical distancing while the pandemic is ongoing.

Which Visas Did It Affect?

The policy affected holders of F-1 and M-1 visas, which are for academic and vocational students. The state department gave out 388,839 F visas and 9,518 M visas in the previous year of 2019, according to the agency’s data.

According to the US commerce department, students from overseas contributed $45bn (£36bn) to the country’s economy in 2018.

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