Trump’s New Political Pawns: Visa restrictions reversed for international students in online classes

July 26, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The Trump administration rescinds visa restrictions which would have required international students to take at least one in-person class in order to remain in the U.S. and be eligible for a student visa.

What does this mean?

On Monday 6 July U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that the new policy directive would subject foreign students to deportation if they did not attend classes on campus but rather continued their courses online. The government previously argued that if classes are entirely online, then international students have no basis to be in the country.

However, the decision was rescinded following immense backlash and multiple lawsuits by top universities, the attorneys general of 20 states and Silicon Valley. Harvard and MIT have both argued that the directive was a result of the government’s plan to force universities to reopen despite health and safety risks caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The proposed visa regulations would have cost universities millions of dollars in tuition and put almost half a million campus jobs at risk. It could also have resulted in serious brain drain from the U.S. as many skilled workers would have had to flee the country.

What's the big picture effect?

Using the pandemic as an excuse and the need to protect the country from health threats as a justification, President Trump targeted international students to advance his restrictionist agenda on immigration. Similar immigration measures have been taken recently under the pretence of the pandemic. Restrictions on legal immigration came with halting green card processing and barring thousands of foreigners on work visas and asylum seekers from entering the country. The administration also extended border controls under the guise of the coronavirus pandemic, blocking nearly 43,000 migrants from seeking asylum at the southwest border of the U.S. 

The decision to deport international students taking online classes was another radical decision taken by President Trump. The administration’s repeated attempts to restrict immigration have made foreign students feel unwelcome in the U.S., pushing many to consider other options. Since President Trump was elected in 2016, the number of new international students coming to the U.S. has fallen by 10 per cent. Experts say that the Trump administration’s policies, including travel bans on some Muslim countries in 2017, restrictions imposed on China, and the confusion over international students has had a detrimental impact on American universities.

Harvard and MIT argued that the government failed to consider the potential costs of this arbitrary decision. They pointed out that there is a breach of the Administrative Procedure Act which is a law that requires federal agencies to provide reasoned explanations for their decision making.  Defending the point, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey stated that offering no sound policy reasoning is illegal. Together with economic considerations and popular dissent, institutional checks and balances played a significant role in reversing the decision. Nevertheless, an anti-democratic virus is visibly spreading across the U.S. It will be interesting to see how these recent events will impact the upcoming 2020 presidential elections.

Report written by Selin Alagoun

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