Harvard, MIT sue to preserve foreign students’ access during coronavirus pandemic

Harvard, MIT sue to preserve foreign students’ access during coronavirus pandemic

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration on Wednesday, hoping to undo a new rule that would block some foreign students from being admitted to the U.S.

The new rule would still allow students whose schools plan in-person coursework, but if all of their classes have moved online during the coronavirus pandemic, those students would be ineligible to come or remain in the U.S. Students could transfer schools to ones that are offering in-person courses to keep in status.

But Harvard and MIT said that was cruel to the students — and speculated the rule was meant to be malicious, “to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible.”

“We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students—and international students at institutions across the country—can continue their studies without the threat of deportation,” Harvard President Lawrence S Bacow said in a letter to the school.

The student rule was issued earlier this week, and is the latest crackdown on foreigners attempting to come to the U.S. amid a worsening pandemic. President Trump has already halted hundreds of thousands of temporary worker visas and some permanent immigrant visas through the end of the year.

But the student rule has sparked an unusual amount of hand-wringing.

Harvard and MIT said it amounted to illegal meddling in their decisions, trying to force them to hold in-person classes “notwithstanding the universities’ judgment that it is neither safe nor educationally advisable to do so.”

The schools said the new rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires major policy changes to go through the correct hoops such as notice and comment. Harvard and MIT said Homeland Security, which issued the new rules, didn’t have an adequate justification for the policy and didn’t allow for a notice and comment period.

The APA has snared a number of other Trump immigration policies, including just last month, when the Supreme Court ruled the administration didn’t provide enough justification for phasing out the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty.

Under normal rules, foreign students must attend classes in order to keep their visa valid, and there are limits on how many online courses they can take.

When COVID-19 first hit, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which runs the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) — announced an exemption that would allow them to remain in status even if their classes went exclusively online.

The new move this week slims that exemption for the fall semester.

“Students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States,” ICE said in a message to schools.

Students at schools that allow a “hybrid” of online and in-person classes will be allowed to take some extra online classes, but cannot take only online courses.

As pushback began on Tuesday, the State Department issued a statement insisting that foreign students were still welcome — though defending the new rules.

“This temporary accommodation provides greater flexibility for nonimmigrant students to continue their education in the United States, while also allowing for proper social distancing on open and operating campuses across America,” the department said.

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