Harvard, MIT sue Trump admin over foreign student visa rule

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the proposed new rules for international students as the Trump administration sought to soften the impact of its controversial order arguing, one, it was only a temporary measure and, two, it was meant to force these institutions to reopen fully.

In the lawsuit filed in a Boston court, the two top universities sought a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction to bar the Department of Homeland Security and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from implementing the proposed order that will force foreign students of universities and colleges offering online-only classes for the upcoming fall semester to leave the country.

“The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Harvard University president Lawrence S Bacow wrote in an email to affiliates. as reported by the campus news publication The Harvard Crimson. “We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal.”

Harvard is among the institutions directly impact by the order as it had announced plans to hold online classes only for the fall semester just hours before ICE issued the guidelines on Monday, which had come completely without warning as many colleges and universities were still planning their fall reopening after a long break forced by the Covid-19 epidemic.

The push back to the new guideline came swiftly at home from US institutions, with echoes around the world. India, which is the second largest source of international students to the US with an estimated 200,000, brought up the issue at the “foreign office consultations” between Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and US under-secretary of state for political affairs David Hale on Tuesday. Other countries are reported to have reached out as well.

Hours later, state department said in a statement that the intended measure was a “temporary accommodation” meant only for the fall semester, and that it will allow international students to, in fact, continue their education through a mixture of online and in-person teaching while ensuring adherence to social distancing norms still required to battle the Covid-19 epidemic. There was no mention of students being forced to leave.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, also emphasized the temporary nature of the new rule in an interview on CNN and went to say it will “encourage schools to reopen”.

The Trump administration has been pushing for reopening the country after the Covid-19 lockdowns wreaked havoc on the US economy, leaving a trail of shuttered businesses and lay-offs, that have left the president without his best pitch for a second-term, a booming economy.

On Tuesday, Trump said he will force schools to reopen as well.

Foreign students enrolled in US institutions offering online-only classes for their fall semester will be not allowed to come to the US and if they are already here they may be forced to leave, unless a majority of their coursework was taught in-person, according to a proposed rule the Trump administration announced Monday. It is expected to be notified later this month.

But foreign students of colleges and universities that were shifting to a hybrid model of mixed online and in-person classes will be allowed opt for more online classes than previously allowed. But these institutions had show to authorities that hey had indeed shifted to this model, also called “blended”.

The Unites States has admitted an estimated 1 million international students every year, who generated around $41 billion worth of economic activity and supported 450,000 jobs, according to the American Council on Education, which represents US colleges and universities. Incomes generated from foreign students are critical to the financial health of many US colleges.

China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada are the top-five sources of international students, in that order.

Indian students have said their first reactions were panic and confusion. “The words ‘removal proceedings’ in the order set us off really,” said a graduate student who wished not to be identified. The student was referring to the new guideline issued Monday by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency for international students.

US universities are still trying to sift through the implications of the proposed guideline, and the confusion. “We highly value our international community,” the University of Maryland in Maryland state, which has a large number of Indian students, said in a statement. “We are urgently considering alternative options, as this newly announced rule has caused great concern.”

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