Foreign students in US spared as controversy ends

Published July 18, 2020, 11:00 PM

by Manila Bulletin

Some 3,320 Filipino students were enrolled in United States universities in 2019 and were set to continue their studies this coming school year when they and some 1.1 million other foreign students found themselves at the center of a controversy. The Trump administration on July 6 said it would cancel the visas of all those studying in schools which have decided to hold only online classes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, supported by several other institutions, teachers unions, and at least 18 US states, sued the US federal government over the visa cancellation order, the Trump administration backed down July 14 and rescinded its visa order.
That unfortunate order was only the latest in President Trump’s efforts to get immigrants out of the US, particularly the ones arriving from South and Central America through Mexico. The federal government has also stopped immigrants from mostly Muslim countries.

In the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration is pushing for the early return of American life to normal, despite mounting numbers of infections and deaths in several states. Harvard, MIT, and many other schools thus planned for mostly online classes this coming school year. This, however, would go against the federal government’s efforts to push the country back to normal.

In a combination of two key interests – keeping immigrants away and getting the country back to normal as soon as possible – the Trump administration issued that controversial order on July 6 to revoke the visas of foreign students in schools resorting to online classes.

Harvard and MIT went to court. They filed with the US District Court in Boston a petition to reject the visa guidelines issued by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Last Tuesday, July 14, a federal judge announced the US government had rescinded its controversial visa order.

The schools’ petition called the government order “arbitrary and capricious” that threw US higher education “into chaos.” There are more than a million foreign students in US schools and their departure would affect many schools’ operations and even the national economy. The Institute of International Education (IIE) said foreign students contributed $55.7 billion to the US economy in 2018.

More than economic and administrative reasons, the expulsion of foreign students in the US would have negated an old US program aimed at improving intercultural relations between the US and other nations which the US started with its Fulbright Program way back in 1946.

All foreign students in the US over the years – whether under US auspices as in the Fulbright program or on their own or with the support of their own governments and international organizations – not only learn from US schools; they also see and come to appreciate life in that country.

All these, the Trump administration seemed to have set aside when it issued that visa ban on all foreign students if their schools did not immediately return to normal operations. We are glad the controversy has been quickly ended with the rescinding of that controversial administration order.