Harvard, MIT File Suit over Trump Administration Visa Rule for International Students

Rasa - Harvard plans to teach its students online in the fall, though the school plans to invite up to 40 percent of its undergraduates back to campus. MIT plans a hybrid on-campus and online program for the 2020-21 academic year, POLITICO reported.

The government's proposal is still being finalized, but could affect a swath of other schools struggling to reopen their doors while the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber said the school would file an amicus brief for the lawsuit, while also “exploring other legal and policy options”. Yale President Peter Salovey, meanwhile, stated his institution was working to "understand the full implications of DHS’s guidance".

A trio of other major universities — Arizona State, Michigan and the University of Southern California — have expressed confidence that their plans for the fall won't affect foreign students.

ICE announced the proposed policy is intended to “maximize flexibility for students to continue their studies, while minimizing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 by not admitting students into the country who do not need to be present to attend classes in-person.”

“The policy speaks for itself," White House Spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany noted Wednesday, adding, "You don’t get a visa for taking online classes from, let’s say, the University of Phoenix. So why would you if you were just taking online classes generally?"

Responding to the lawsuit by Harvard and MIT, she stated, “Perhaps the better lawsuit would be coming from students who have to pay full tuition with no access to in person classes to attend.”

Schools planning to offer entirely online classes or programs, or that don't plan to reopen for the fall 2020 semester, must submit their plans to ICE by next week. Institutions planning to reopen with adjusted calendars or a hybrid of in-person and remote classes must do the same by the beginning of August.

The colleges argued in their complaint, filed in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, that "ICE’s decision reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes". The administration of President Donald Trump has been pushing hard for both colleges and K-12 schools to fully physically reopen.

The suit says that "the effect — and perhaps even the goal — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible".

Both schools argue the government's proposed policy violates the Administrative Procedure Act, and are asking a judge to issue a temporary restraining order and injunctions that bar the government from enforcing its planned policy or enshrining it as a required rule.

International students expressed shock as news of the Trump administration’s planned changes to policies for foreign scholars in the US on visas filtered through group chats and Facebook posts this week.

“The announced changes are heartless, senseless, and damaging: they needlessly put international students at risk without serving any legitimate policy objective,” Princeton's Eisgruber announced in a statement, adding, “ICE’s announcement is policymaking at its worst: cruel, opaque, and arbitrary.”