On Monday, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students will not be allowed to stay in the United States if the universities they attend exclusively hold online classes due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
International students were given two options: transfer to universities giving in-person or hybrid courses (both in-person and online) or leave the United States altogether. If they do, they might not be allowed to come back later on, and if they refuse to leave, they might be deported.
In 2018-2019, the US had more than one million international students which are about 5.5% of the total student community. According to the US Department of Commerce, international students contributed $45bn to the country’s economy.
The guidance applies to specific types of visas (F-1 and M-1) and a US government study shows that last year, more than 373,000 of these visas were granted for academic study.
Following the decision, two of the most elite universities in America, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), took the Trump administration to court on Wednesday in an attempt to declare the guidance illegal.
Harvard and MIT’s federal lawsuit which was filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, calls upon the court to stop the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department for Homeland Security from enforcing the guidance issued earlier this week, arguing it violates the Administrative Procedures Act.
“The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness. It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others,” Harvard University President Larry Bacow said.
Moreover, the lawsuit highlights the challenge posed to students: “Just weeks from the start of the fall semester, these students are largely unable to transfer to universities providing on-campus instruction, notwithstanding ICE’s suggestion that they might do so to avoid removal from the country.”
Harvard University announced earlier this week that all of its courses will be delivered online and the decision to revoke visas will affect around 5,000 international students. President Trump later called Harvard’s decision to hold online-only courses “ridiculous”. He has been resolved that US teaching should return to normal in the fall term, even as the US is currently the most severely hit country by Covid-19 and has recorded nearly 3 million confirmed cases.
The filed lawsuit also received support from the Cornell University whose international students will not be affected by the decision due to hybrid courses, but expressed opposition describing it as a “senseless and unfair policy that runs counter to all that we stand for as a global academic community”.
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