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St. Louis International Students Relieved That They Can Stay Without Risking Coronavirus

Two students walk down the long stairwell in front of Brookings Administration Building at Washington University in St. Louis. (photo taken March 19, 2020)
File photo / Bill Greenblatt
International students at Washington University in St. Louis say they are relieved that federal immigration officials reversed a policy that would have required them to take in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic to stay in the U.S.

The Trump administration has rescinded a policy that would have required international students to take in-person classes or risk deportation.

U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement announced last week that international students in the U.S. could not remain in the country if they are taking only online courses, the only option at many universities during the coronavirus pandemic.

The administration’s reversal of that order on Tuesday comes as a big relief to international students in the St. Louis region.

“A lot of these policies affect real people in real lives,” said Jiwon Yi, a student from South Korea who is pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience at Washington University. 

“I know that for me personally, if I suddenly had to move back to Korea, that would have really huge financial consequences for me.”

Allowing international students to stay in the country and take online classes removes a huge burden, Yi said.

Immigration lawyers, universities and international students had decried the new guidelines as anti-immigrant.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the U.S. government in federal court, claiming that the rules were arbitrary and capricious. Wash U filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting that lawsuit.

Some international students had feared that requiring them to attend in-person classes to remain in the U.S. would have forced them to endanger their health by risking exposure to the virus.

The Trump administration's change of course will allow many students to stay in the country, said Katie Herbert Meyer, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at Washington University. 

“Where we stand now is a return to the government's initial pandemic response,” Meyer said. “And that was to allow international students to attend their courses that had moved online ... and not to risk losing their student visa.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.