17 States Sue Trump Admin for New Visa Rules for International Students

July 13, 2020 Updated: July 13, 2020

A coalition of states and Washington are suing the Trump administration over its rule that prevents international students from staying in the United States if their school only offers online courses in the upcoming fall.

Seventeen states and the U.S. Capital filed the lawsuit on Monday asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to block the rule that requires international students to leave the country or transfer to another institution if their schools offer classes entirely online in fall 2020. If not, the students may risk consequences such as deportation.

The rule was announced by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on July 6.

“The Trump Administration didn’t even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is leading the lawsuit, said in a statement.

The administration has been facing widespread criticism and multiple lawsuits for promulgating the rule, which is said to have created uncertainty for about a million of international students in the United States. Many academic institutions, who are already struggling to navigate the logistical challenges of safely resuming classes amid the CCP virus pandemic, are also taking actions in an effort to block the enforcement of the rule.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) brought a lawsuit last week in an effort to block the rule, claiming that the rule was “designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall.” Similar litigation efforts have been brought by other higher education institutions such as Johns Hopkins University.

The states’ lawsuit follows a similar lawsuit filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and other state officials, saying that the rule would “exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 and exile hundreds of thousands of college students studying in the United States.”

The lawsuit alleges that the new rule would cause substantial irreparable harm to states, schools, and students because the Trump administration had failed to consider the public health and safety amid the ongoing pandemic. The 17 states and Washington are home to a combined 1,124 colleges and universities and hosted over 373,000 international students last year, which equates to $14,502,646,811 of revenue to those states’ economies in that year, the attorney generals say.

Deny entry international students
Students and pedestrians walk through the Yard at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., on March 10, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The rule would upend the lives of international students and their families, and bring enormous administration burden on schools in order to reconsider “carefully calibrated fall semester plans and to make individual certifications for each individual international student in a matter of weeks,” the lawsuit (pdf) says.

It also said the effect of the rule would deprive the university community of the “perspectives, skills, and talents of so many international students,” as well as bring a loss to the economy.

The states’ lawsuit is also asking the court to delay the rule from going into effect.

Along with Massachusetts and the U.S. Capital, states including Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are participating in the suit.

President Donald Trump has been pushing for schools to reopen in fall 2020, which is tied to his effort to help the country resume normal economic functions. During a roundtable discussion with health experts, educators, students, and parents on Tuesday, Trump said he will pressure governors to reopen, saying that he believes that the governors who didn’t were doing it for political reasons.

“We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons, they think it’s gonna be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed, no way,” Trump said. “We’re very much going to put pressure on the governors and everybody else to open the schools.”

Under ICE’s announcement, students who are attending schools that offer both a mixture of online and in-person classes are allowed to take more than one class online as long as the schools certify that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking the course entirely online that semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make progress in their degree program.

A States Department spokesperson said that this temporary accommodation for students getting instruction under the hybrid model “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.”

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