Trump Administration Walks Back Student Visa Rules
By Preston Huennekens | FAIR Take | July 2020
The Trump administration abruptly reversed an earlier decision affecting international students. The proposal stated that foreign students studying in the United States on F-1 and M-1 visas would not be able to remain in the United States if their courses were entirely online for the fall 2020 semester due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) administers the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). On July 6, ICE announced that nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. Almost immediately, universities, powerful tech companies, the business lobby, and politicians began a pressure campaign deriding ICE’s decision.
Clearly, the campaign worked. On July 14, the administration completely reversed its position and reverted to earlier March guidance allowing international students to remain in the United States if their program went entirely online for the upcoming Fall semester. In a press release, FAIR president Dan Stein blasted the decision, stating:
FAIR firmly denounces the Trump administration’s walk-back of the July 6 decision to deny visas to international students who are taking online-only classes this fall… This, unfortunately, is yet another example of the administration caving to the pressure of the business lobby and open borders advocates who continue crafting the narrative that international students are somehow anything more than temporary visitors.
Under existing law, international students cannot take more than a single online course per semester. This rule prevents fraud and attempts to prevent the existence of fraud within the program. Unfortunately, fraud in the international student and subsequent Optional Practical Training (OPT) post-graduate job program regularly occur.
Initially, the Trump administration made a sensible decision to prevent international students from residing in the United States if they attended online-only schools. International students are temporary visitors, not immigrants pursuing citizenship. Like a guestworker whose job concluded, there is no legitimate legal reason for international students to stay in the country if in-person classes are not available. Further, this decision would not strip students of their enrollment — only their ability to reside in the country. Universities overwhelmingly rely on the heavy tuition and fees paid by international students to buoy their burgeoning costs. It is highly unlikely that universities would take international students off of their rolls.
This is another example of the Trump administration caving to the business and academic lobby and tech companies that increasingly wield greater influence within the White House. This is a disappointing development for advocates of immigration reform.