The White House is considering rolling back some visa restrictions on foreign students whose colleges have moved to online instruction because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
Last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that foreign students on F1 visas would be required to leave the country if all their classes have been moved online. Foreign students would be able to remain in the U.S. if they attended or transferred to a college where they could complete at least one in-person class.
“If a university…[doesn’t] reopen this semester, there isn’t a reason for a person holding a student visa to be present in the country,” DHS acting deputy director Ken Cuccinelli told CNN. Cuccinelli added that the policy could “encourage schools to reopen.”
Officials in the White House and the Department of Homeland Security are now discussing easing the visa restrictions following intense criticism, people familiar with the matter told the Journal. One option would be applying the new rules only to newly-enrolled students, and allow students already in the U.S. to continue their studies even if their courses have moved online.
Last week’s announcement led Harvard University, which had already committed to online learning for the coming school year, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to sue ICE. A group of 17 U.S. states followed with their own suit. There are roughly one million foreign students currently in the U.S., and many universities rely on these students for their business model.
Universities and grade schools are struggling to reopen campuses because of the pandemic. Even with classes moving online, some universities including Harvard have not reduced tuition.