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ICE To Rescind Regulations Regarding International Students


International students will be permitted to stay in the U.S. for the fall semester if their school choose to hold online-only classes. Last week, Harvard and MIT sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over a rule that would have barred those international students from the country unless they enrolled in at least one in-person class. This is a win for schools and for students who'd been trying to plan for the fall semester. And NPR's Elissa Nadworny joins us now.

Hi, Elissa.


MCCAMMON: So what happened today?

NADWORNY: Well, Harvard and MIT took ICE to court today over a rule that would have potentially affected more than a million international students. Basically, the rule said if schools were all online because of the pandemic, their students couldn't stay in the U.S. So that's not a new rule.

But in March, when pretty much every school went virtual, ICE had allowed for flexibility for, quote, "the duration of the emergency." The rule issued last week was largely seen as a way for the Trump administration to push schools to reopen in the fall. So in court today, universities were expected to make arguments saying that this rule was onerous, even dangerous for students. Instead, a judge said the schools had reached an agreement with the government to rescind the policy.

MCCAMMON: And, Elissa, schools will now be able to hold online classes this fall without fear of losing their international students. How are the schools reacting?

NADWORNY: Yeah, that's right. Well, there is a lot of relief. Many had decided to go mostly virtual. This rule from ICE last week kind of threw a wrench in all of that, you know? In some cases, schools were having to reevaluate every course offering to make sure that their international students would be able to have those in-person or hybrid courses to be able to comply.

I spoke with Pablo Ortiz, who oversees international students and global campuses for Florida International University. That's a public university in Florida. They have thousands of international students from more than 140 countries. Let's listen to his response to today's news.

PABLO ORTIZ: It is certainly good news. I mean, we're happy to hear that. But we are cautiously optimistic that it will remain as such, and we'll be ready for any decisions that are made.

NADWORNY: So before today's change, FIU was having to rework about 3,500 individual course schedules for their international students to make sure they complied, which is a major undertaking. Ortiz said administrators at FIU are still going to keep planning multiple scenarios. You know, they don't want to get caught off guard again as they were last week.

It's also worth mentioning for schools that international students bring a lot of money. You know, they often pay full tuition. Many schools attached to this lawsuit cited big losses if this rule were going to go into effect. So this is good news for the bottom line for colleges.

MCCAMMON: And, obviously, good news for these international students. How are they reacting?

NADWORNY: You know, there's still a lot of uncertainty for many international students, especially those who are outside of the U.S. But, yes, this is good news for so many students in the U.S. trying to stay here to study. Sumana Kaluvai is a UCLA grad who - she created a website last week to help current international students try and find in-person classes basically to allow them to comply and to stay. She's been working around the clock to help students. She was shocked to hear this news. Here she is.

SUMANA KALUVAI: Honestly, it makes me feel so relieved (laughter). And I think it's just proof that universities have a lot more power than we realize. And I'm glad that they took such quick action.

NADWORNY: So students that I've spoken to have really felt torn between their studies and their health. This was a major, major hurdle for them to try and figure out. OK, should I stay? Should I transfer to a new university? Do I have to switch majors? So many are just sighing relief here because it's simply one less thing to worry about. You know, heading into this fall, it's going to be really uncertain, unpredictable. We don't know what college is going to look like. So this is a real relief for a lot of folks, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Elissa Nadworny.

Thank you so much.

NADWORNY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.