The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have agreed to rescind a policy that would require international students to take in-person classes in order to remain in the US.

The agencies have reached an agreement with Harvard and MIT, who filed a lawsuit on July 8th over the policy. The resolution came less than five minutes into a hearing for the case, federal Judge Allison D. Burroughs announced.

ICE will reinstate the guidelines it applied to the Spring 2020 semester, which allowed international students with F-1 visas to take fully online course loads while retaining their visa status. That policy, announced in March, allowed hundreds of thousands of international students to remain in the US after COVID-19 drove their universities to move instruction online. Typically, students who hold an F-1 visa can count a maximum of one online class toward their course of study.

The new policy, announced July 6th, stated that international students who took a fully online course load during the upcoming fall semester could face “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

A large number of universities, including Harvard, plan to offer all of their classes online during the upcoming semester. Others, including MIT, have proposed a hybrid model of online and in-person instruction.

In Harvard and MIT’s lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in Boston, the universities referred to ICE’s directive as “arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion.” The suit was followed by a separate lawsuit including 17 states and DC, with support from hundreds of universities. The plaintiffs claimed that the rule imposed large financial and administrative burdens on colleges and universities and would interfere with reopening guidelines that state governments had already issued. They also argued that the directive would harm students, noting that many would be unable to return to their home countries due to travel restrictions and financial constraints.

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