On the heels of an order that would deny visas to international students if their coursework is “online-only,” Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have filed a federal lawsuit to stop it from being implemented.
Such action comes after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced plans in a news release Monday to deny visas for international students enrolled in schools whose programs are fully online for the fall semester.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions across the country are already scrambling to prepare for the 2020-21 school year.
Filed Wednesday in Massachusetts U.S. District Court, the plaintiffs demand the court hand down a temporary injunction, and a preliminary and permanent relief denying ICE, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, from implementing the rule this fall.
In addition to naming ICE and DHS in its filing, the suit also names Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Secretary of ICE Matthew Albence.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Harvard and MIT states that as of early March, the state, and the federal government, had declared a state of emergency related to COVID-19; in the order, exemptions for international students were made; both by the state, and in the federal order.
But as the lawsuit states, that all changed Monday when ICE modified the order and explicitly stated it would not grant visas for international students who were enrolled for “online-only,” classes.
“Immediately after the Fourth of July weekend, ICE threw Harvard and MIT— indeed, virtually all of higher education in the United States— into chaos. On July 6, 2020, ICE announced that it was rescinding its COVID-19 exemption for international students, requiring all students on F-1 visas whose university curricula are entirely online to depart the country, and barring any such students currently outside the United States from entering or reentering the United States,” the document states.
The document additionally states ICE handed down this order without notice, and definitely without a comment period.
“ICE’s action proceeded without any indication of having considered the health of students, faculty, university staff, or communities; the reliance of both students and universities on ICE’s statements that the preexisting exemptions would be “in effect for the duration of the emergency” posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to this day; or the absence of other options for universities to provide their curricula to many of their international students,” the 24-page lawsuit states in part.
According to the Institute of International Education, in the 2018-19 academic year, there were at least 11 universities across the country that hosted more than 10,000 international students each at its institutions, with New York University leading the way with 19,605 international students — and as many as more than million international students nationwide.
Harvard, and MIT, in the document claim they host about 5,000 and 4,000 international students on F-1 visas, respectively.
Locally, officials with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said they average about 800 international students a year, and would support them as they work to accommodate them for the next semester.
“All of them are valued members of our diverse university community, and we are committed to helping them continue their education at UTRGV,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey said in a prepared statement. “As we review and interpret the new guidelines, rest assured that UTRGV will do all it can to ensure our international students aren’t affected by the new modifications and can continue their academic journey this fall.”
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, voiced his concern with ICE’s action Monday, and how the denial of these students could have economic reverberations.
“Right now, America proudly hosts roughly 1.15 million international students who contribute approximately $41 billion to the U.S. economy and add value to our communities. Denying visas and deporting students who are not attending class in-person, when there may not be any in-person classes to attend, is cruel, unwarranted, and un-American,” Gonzalez said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “Xenophobia and nationalism are the only way to explain President Trump publicly decrying that children need to attend school, flouting the advice of medical experts, and simultaneously seeing fit to block international students from attending our schools. I will do everything in my power to help these students and prevent these policies from being implemented to the best of my ability.”