Last week, U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) re­voked a re­cent im­mi­gra­tion pol­i­cy that was an­nounced ear­li­er this month that would have forced for­eign stu­dents liv­ing in the U.S. with F‑1 or M‑1 visas to re­turn home or trans­fer to an­oth­er school of­fer­ing in-per­son in­struc­tion if the class­es at their uni­ver­si­ty re­mained en­tire­ly on­line for the up­com­ing fall se­mes­ter.

The new pol­i­cy came as a swift re­ver­sal: when the pan­dem­ic first hit the U.S. in March, the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment was quick to re­lax stu­dent visa re­stric­tions in light of the emer­gency. For­eign­ers with F‑1 visas — who are usu­al­ly forced to take the ma­jor­i­ty of their class­es in per­son — were per­mit­ted to com­plete spring and sum­mer cours­es com­plete­ly on­line giv­en the ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances brought on by the rapid pro­lif­er­a­tion of COVID-19. The new pol­i­cy would have ef­fec­tive­ly re­scind­ed all of the ex­emp­tions made for for­eign stu­dents tak­ing spring and sum­mer class­es. Now that it has been lift­ed, those same stu­dents can take their fall course load en­tire­ly on­line in the U.S. and they will no longer face the threat of de­por­ta­tion.

The aban­don­ment of the di­rec­tive by the ad­min­is­tra­tion came af­ter sharp crit­i­cism from some uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dents and im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivists, who called the or­der “a blunt, one-size-fits-all ap­proach to a com­plex prob­lem giv­ing in­ter­na­tion­al stu­dents, par­tic­u­lar­ly those in on­line pro­grams, few op­tions be­yond leav­ing the coun­try or trans­fer­ring schools.” Har­vard and MIT had even sued the gov­ern­ment in fed­er­al court in an ef­fort to halt the policy’s im­ple­men­ta­tion and pro­tect hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­ter­na­tion­al stu­dents study­ing around the U.S.

Ex­perts say that the re­stric­tions could have had dire ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Had ICE’s pol­i­cy been im­ple­ment­ed, Amer­i­can aca­d­e­m­ic in­sti­tu­tions would have faced a num­ber of key chal­lenges, as many de­pend on in­ter­na­tion­al stu­dents — who of­ten pay full tu­ition — as a crit­i­cal source of their rev­enue.

Se­vere visa re­stric­tions not on­ly would have caused uni­ver­si­ty bud­gets to suf­fer, but al­so made the U.S. a much less at­trac­tive aca­d­e­m­ic mar­ket for top for­eign stu­dents and tal­ent.

We are de­light­ed and re­lieved to hear that in­ter­na­tion­al stu­dents, in­clud­ing LLM stu­dents ap­ply­ing for the bar ex­ams as for­eign­ers, will be able to stay in the U.S. to study. We wish them the best this up­com­ing school year as they con­tin­ue their per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al de­vel­op­ment!