Jul 09, 2020 05:53 AM

Harvard and MIT Sue Immigration Authorities on New Student Visa Guidelines

Harvard banners hang outside Memorial Church on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge
Harvard banners hang outside Memorial Church on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge

(Bloomberg) — Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the U.S. from enforcing new visa guidelines that could force international students out of the country if schools offer only online classes in the fall.

“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 President Lawrence Bacow said Wednesday in a statement.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency issued the rules Monday. Students on existing visas who wish to remain in the U.S. must transfer to a school with in-person instruction or attend an institution that offers both remote and on-campus learning, according to ICE.

Universities that rely heavily on international students, who typically pay full price, are uncertain how many undergraduates will come if their college experience is altered by Covid-19 testing, masks and limited social interaction. About 1.1 million international students were studying at U.S. colleges in the 2018-19 school year, according to the most recent data from the Institute of International Education (IIE).

The most, more than a third, come from China, followed by India and South Korea. The number of Chinese students enrolled in American universities in 2018 was estimated to be about 370,000, according to the IIE.

Harvard University said Monday, just hours before the ICE guidance was released, that it would conduct course instruction online for the 2020-21 academic year, including for those living on the campus.

Princeton University also said Monday that most academic instruction will remain online. Undergraduates will be able to return to campus for only one semester during the 2020-21 academic year.

The new visa rules impose “a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem,” giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools, Bacow said Monday in a statement. “This guidance undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programs while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic.”

The case is President and Fellows of Harvard College et al. v. United States Department of Homeland Security, 1:20-cv-11283, U.S. District Court, Massachusetts.

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