A policy that would penalize international students for overstaying or violating the terms of their visas has been blocked by a federal judge in North Carolina.

The policy issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in August 2018 determines when international students start accruing “unlawful presence,” or time spent out of lawful immigration status that counts against an immigrant when he or she tries to re-enter the U.S. legally. A three-year bar on re-entry is triggered after 180 days of unlawful presence, while more than a year of unlawful presence triggers a 10-year bar.

Prior to August, unlawful presence didn’t...