NEW YORK –The U.S. government has dropped a plan not to grant visas for international students attending American high schools or universities if their classes shift entirely online in the fall in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a district court revealed Tuesday.
The administration of President Donald Trump revoked the controversial move during court proceedings in a case filed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over the policy at the federal district court in Massachusetts.
Since the policy’s unveiling last week, it has drawn sharp criticism from many universities across the country and some U.S. states, with calls on the administration to reverse course.
The move also triggered concerns among international students who might have been forced to cancel or change their study plans in the United States.
It remains unclear why the U.S. government changed its policy on student visas.
Most schools, including universities and high schools, shifted to online classes in the United States as the country shut down social activity and businesses to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Trump administration said on July 7 that it would stop issuing visas for students who pursue online-only courses from September, while those already in the United States would need to transfer to institutions offering in-person classes or leave the country.
Under the new regulation, students attending schools that combined online and in-person classes would have needed to prove that their programs were not taught entirely via the internet.
The U.S. government has tightened visa regulations, extending a pause in the issuance of “green cards,” or permanent resident cards, amid the pandemic. In June, it suspended the issuance of some work visas — F-1 and M-1 visas, which are used by academic and vocational students, respectively.
In the United States, 388,839 F visas and 9,518 M visas were issued during the fiscal year ending in September 2019, according to U.S. government data.
Harvard and MIT filed the lawsuit against the federal government on July 8, followed by similar lawsuits by 17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia on Monday.
The United States has confirmed over 3.4 million coronavirus cases with more than 130,000 deaths, with each figure the highest in the world, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.