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ICE rescinds policy barring international students with online course loads following Harvard, MIT’s lawsuit

Harvard University’s campus.
“Harvard University Widener Library” by Joseph Williams / CC BY 2.0

The U.S. Government has agreed to rescind a July 6 Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) rule that may have barred international students with online course loads from remaining in country.

On July 6, ICE released guidelines indicating that international students taking entirely-online course loads “may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.” Two days later, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed a lawsuit against ICE’s rules. And yesterday, 59 higher education institutions, including the University, filed an amicus brief in support of the Harvard and MIT’s suit. 


In a hearing held today, the Government agreed to rescind the Directive “on a nationwide basis” and return to previous COVID-19 guidence that allows students taking online courses to reside in the United States on F-1 visas “for the duration of the emergency.”

“The Government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020 Policy Directive and the July 7, 2020 FAQ, and has also agreed to rescind their implementation. The Government will return to the March 9, 2020 and March 13, 2020 policy,” according to a notice from the court clerk.

This resolution was agreed to less than five minutes into the hearing, according to reporting from The Harvard Crimson.

In a previous statement announcing the University’s intention to file an amicus brief in support of Harvard and MIT’s suit, University President Chrisopher Eisgruber ’83 previously wrote that “The announced changes are heartless, senseless, and damaging: they needlessly put international students at risk without serving any legitimate policy objective.” The University — along with 58 other higher education institutions — officially submitted the brief on Monday. 

This University-signed brief argued that the ICE Directive failed to consider the enormous and disruptive burdens it imposed, going on to state that there was no “reasoned explanation to the new policy.” The brief used the University as an example of how disruptive the directive would be, noting that “Princeton now may be forced to reassess its plan, with just weeks to go before the fall semester,” with its assumption that international sophomores and seniors would be able to remain in the United States then in question.

It noted the importance of international students to university communities, stating that “their participation in academic life enhances the educational experience for all.” International students were instructed by ICE to “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.” According to the brief, this directive fails to consider the plausibility of these options, including that the current health crisis has led to “limited flight availability, widespread travel restrictions, and the risk of infection in travel.”


Spokesperson Ben Chang noted the University’s appreciation of the decision. 

“We recognize the anxiety and pain this has caused across our community, and we will remain vigilant for any further policy developments that might impact our international students, faculty, or staff,” Chang said.  “Princeton will continue to stand with and advocate for our international community, whose members are crucial to the mission and quality of this University and, indeed, to the vitality and creativity of our country.

Several international students interviewed by the ‘Prince’ last week expressed feelings of frustration and panic after the announcement was made, and several petitions circulated denouncing the ICE decision and requesting that the University explore ways to assist international students.

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This story is breaking and will be updated as more information becomes available.