“The proposed policy throws the lives of hundreds of thousands of students, and the operations of hundreds of colleges and universities, into uncertainty just weeks before the start of the fall term, to the detriment of the United States and its institutions of higher education.”
California is joining the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard in suing the Trump administration over a new visa policy for foreign students, NBC News reported. The policy, announced on Monday, stipulates that university students holding F-1 and M-1 visas must attend at least one in-person class. Harvard and the University of Southern California had previously announced they would conduct the fall semester entirely online.
Combined with the new visa from the White House, the measure, designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, could force students to lose their visa status and scramble to find a way back home during a time when international travel is still highly restricted.
“Shame on the Trump administration for risking not only the education opportunities for students who earned the chance to go to college but now their health and well-being as well,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
The visa policy, which Immigration and Customs Enforcement said will result in removal proceedings if broken, will create an increased risk of spreading the virus on campus and abroad if students are forced to return to their countries of origin, The Daily Star reported. Bercerra claimed they could become “super-spreaders” for COVID-19.
California would be the most-affected state as 25% of its university students last academic year were foreigners, NBC News reported. The US in general benefits from foreign students as they add $41 billion to the economy, according to NAFSA: Association of Educators.
Harvard and MIT Bring Their Own Lawsuit
The new visa policy for foreign students is a change from the administration’s previous position, Harvard and MIT argued in their own lawsuit, The New York Times reported. Before the reversal, Washington suspended an in-person requirement for F-1 visas.
“The government made clear that this arrangement was in effect for the duration of the emergency,” the schools stated.
The universities allege the change is politically motivated.
“The effect — and perhaps even the goal — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible,” the lawsuit read.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, like Becerra, pledged to fight the administration in court.
“Massachusetts is home to thousands of international students who should not fear deportation or be forced to put their health and safety at risk in order to advance their education,” Healy said. “This decision from ICE is cruel, it’s illegal, and we will sue to stop it.”
Democratic Legislators Demand Answers
Democratic lawmakers, lead by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D–Mass., are also taking the administration to task and demanding rationale for the new policy. A letter to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security was signed by 99 congresspeople. The authors blamed the administration’s “catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic,” which forced universities to transition to online courses. Furthermore, the lawmakers cited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on creating a low risk environment.
“The proposed policy throws the lives of hundreds of thousands of students, and the operations of hundreds of colleges and universities, into uncertainty just weeks before the start of the fall term, to the detriment of the United States and its institutions of higher education,” the letter said.
The authors of the letter also used President Donald Trump’s words against him declaring, “ As President Trump noted five years ago, ‘When foreigners attend our great colleges & want to stay in the U.S., they should not be thrown out of our country.’”
The letter calls upon the agencies to respond to Congress to answer for “this reckless policy” by July 16.
The only comment so far on the new visa policy for foreign students came from Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy Homeland Security secretary.
“If they’re not going to be a student or they’re going to be 100 percent online, then they don’t have a basis to be here,” Cuccinelli said. “They should go home, and then they can return when the school opens.”
He also pointed out that past requirements mandated foreign students enroll in only in-person classes, but now they are only required to take one. When looked at that way, the new policy is more flexible, Cuccinelli said.
The reaction from foreign students has been sharply critical as they wait in limbo to see if courts will put the policy on hold. Like Harvard, MIT, and USC, many other universities are adjusting their course offerings for the fall semester. Some are choosing to restrict the number of students for in-person courses, making it difficult for foreign students to find openings, The Associated Press reported.
“Everyone’s very worried,” said Mathias from France. “We have our whole lives here.”
Mathias is preparing to leave the country, but first he must tie up loose ends, such as his apartment and car leases, and his pet cat.
Jessie Peng, a Chinese graduate student at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, called the policy “very dangerous and cruel,” and added “We have nowhere to go.”
Travel restrictions mean many students may end up stuck in the US even as their visas expire, creating a situation with long-term consequences if they try to return to the US later.