The University of Minnesota was one of more than 40 schools throughout the state that challenged ICE's order that international students must take in-person classes or leave the country. Facing lawsuits, the Trump administration rescinded the rule on Tuesday. Credit: John Hernandez | MPR News

This fall, international students can enroll in courses of their choosing, online or in person, without worrying about losing their visas. During a brief federal court hearing in Boston on Tuesday, the Trump administration agreed to withdraw its proposed rule to require international students to attend in-person classes or leave the country. The rule could have affected more than 10,000 international students in Minnesota.

“I am thrilled to learn that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has reversed its recent guidance, and hope today’s news provides some measure of comfort for our international students, many of whom have spent the past week in needless fear and uncertainty,” Macalester College president Suzanne Rivera said in a statement.

The announcement from a federal judge came eight dizzying days after Immigration and Customs Enforcement first proposed the rule. In that time, more than 200 higher education institutions signed on to legal briefs challenging the rule. Simultaneously, universities scrambled to provide enough in-person course offerings across dozens of campuses to prevent  international students from losing their visas.

“The Trump Administration’s new rules were so cruel and unlawful that even they couldn’t defend them,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a press release. “Every community in Minnesota benefits from international students, so every community in Minnesota is a winner today.”

More than 40 Minnesota two- and four-year colleges signed onto lawsuits calling for the rule to be overturned, led by Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Minnesota schools including Augsburg University, Carleton College, Macalester College, Minnesota State University Moorhead, and the University of Minnesota signed onto amicus briefs in the universities’ lawsuit. Attorney General Ellison and 16 other attorneys general joined Healey’s lawsuit asking the court for an injunction to prevent the rule from going into effect. 

The Minnesota State Colleges and University system, which represents 37 higher education institutions, submitted a declaration in support of the states’ lawsuit.

“International students bring important vibrancy and perspective to our campuses that adds to the diversity of thought and experience,” Ron Anderson, senior vice chancellor of Minnesota State, said in a statement. “They are valued members of our communities, and we are pleased that they will not be penalized during this time of change and uncertainty.” 

“Augsburg University is pleased that plans have been abandoned for restrictions on international students holding F-1 visas,” public relations director Gita Sitaramiah said in a statement. 

Before the pandemic, international students in the United States had limits to the coursework they could take online. Students on the common F-1 visas for academic programs could take a maximum of one class online. Students with M-1 visas for vocational programs could not take any classes online.

As the coronavirus became a pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security made a temporary exception for students at colleges and universities that went online for spring and summer classes. But on July 6, it reversed this decision with a new proposed rule that students who took all their classes online would have to leave the country and could even face deportation.

Thousands of students affected in Twin Cities, St. Cloud, Mankato

More than 10,000 international students enroll in Minnesota’s colleges and universities each year. About 6,000 attend undergraduate or graduate programs at the University of Minnesota and another 4,300 attend the 37 schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. St. Cloud State University and Minnesota State University, Mankato alone each have more than 1,000 international students.

According to CNN, the White House may try to apply this rule only to new international students. The Boston Globe noted that it was still unclear what might happen to new students and students whose visas are expiring.

“I want to acknowledge that, while this is a very positive development for our returning students, this policy reversal does not address the difficulties that incoming international students are still having with obtaining visas and complying with the requirement that they arrive before the beginning of the semester,” Rivera, from Macalester, said.

Still, colleges and universities throughout the state celebrated the decision.

“One important impact of the issuance of the guidance was to galvanize support for international students at home and across the country,” said Meredith McQuaid, associate vice president and dean of international programs at the University of Minnesota. “We think that support along with rapid efforts to challenge the new guidance in court combined to influence the government to reconsider its planned action.”

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.