Trump administration abandons attempt to force out tens of thousands of foreign students following widespread condemnation of the move and pressure from colleges and major businesses.
Facing eight federal lawsuits and opposition from hundreds of universities, the Trump administration has rescinded a rule that would have required international students to transfer or leave the country if their schools held classes entirely online because of the pandemic.
The decision was announced on Tuesday at the start of a hearing in a federal lawsuit in Boston brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
US District Judge Allison Burroughs said federal immigration authorities agreed to pull the July 6 directive and "return to the status quo."
A lawyer representing the Department of Homeland Security and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said only that the judge's characterisation was correct.
The announcement brings relief to thousands of foreign students who had been at risk of being deported from the country, along with hundreds of universities that were scrambling to reassess their plans for the fall in light of the policy.
Under the policy, international students in the US would have been forbidden from taking all their courses online this fall.
New visas would not have been issued to students at schools planning to provide all classes online, which includes Harvard.
Students already in the US would have faced deportation if they didn't transfer schools or leave the country voluntarily.
Lawsuits against Trump admin
Immigration officials issued the policy last week, reversing earlier guidance from March 13 telling colleges that limits around online education would be suspended during the pandemic.
University leaders believed the rule was part of President Donald Trump's effort to pressure the nation's schools and colleges to reopen this fall even as new virus cases rise.
The policy drew sharp backlash from higher education institutions, with more than 200 signing court briefs supporting the challenge by Harvard and MIT.
There are more than a million foreign students at US colleges and universities, according to the Institute of International Education, and many schools depend on revenue from foreign students, who often pay full tuition.
Students' safety at risk
The announcement blindsided many universities and colleges that were still making plans for the fall semester, trying to balance concerns about rising cases of the novel coronavirus in many US states and the desire to return to classes.
Colleges said the policy would put students' safety at risk and hurt schools financially.
Harvard and MIT were the first to contest the policy, but at least seven other federal suits had been filed by universities and states opposing the rule.