Harvard, MIT sue US authorities for barring online-only foreign students

Massachusetts Attorney General also plans legal action over “cruel” and “illegal” guidelines.

Faced with a dilemma over opening classes amid a raging covid pandemic or losing lucrative foreign students, two prestigious American educational institutions have sued US authorities over a new rule barring students taking online-only classes.

Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit in District Court in Boston Wednesday morning against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Harvard Crimson reported

The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to bar the DHS and ICE from enforcing the new federal guidelines, the student newspaper said citing University President Lawrence S. Bacow.

The new rules issued Monday have caused great consternation among a million foreign students, including over 250,000 from India with a “disappointed” New Delhi seeking a relook at the issue during India-US foreign office consultations Tuesday.

The new guidelines bar international students attending colleges and universities offering only online courses from staying in the US and deny visas to those planning to take such classes in 2020 fall semester.

The also require that they transfer to an institution offering in-person instruction or risk “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

“The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Bacow wrote in an email to affiliates. “We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal.”

DHS and ICE did not immediately respond to requests for comment, the Crimson said.

The guidelines were released just hours after Harvard announced it would house no more than 40 percent of undergraduates and would hold all College classes online in the fall.

“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,” Bacow wrote as cited by the Crimson.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey too announced Tuesday that her office “will sue” over the guidelines, which she called “cruel” and “illegal.”

Still, Bacow and Harvard chose not to wait for Healey’s suit, the Crimson said.

Their case argues that the guidelines violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to consider “important aspects of the problem” in advance of its release, failing to provide a reasonable basis for the policy, and failing to adequately notify the public.

The Crimson cited Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh as saying in a panel Monday that Vice Provost for International Affairs Mark C. Elliot is also contacting ambassadors on behalf of international students.

“As a university with a profound commitment to residential education, we hope and intend to resume full in-person instruction as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so,” Bacow wrote.

“But, until that time comes, we will not stand by to see our international students’ dreams extinguished by a deeply misguided order. We owe it to them to stand up and to fight—and we will.”


US says foreign students still welcome despite new rule (July 8, 2020)

Foreign students face deportation if US schools go online (July 7, 2020)

Indian students asked to stay in touch with schools regarding OPT (June 18, 2020)

Canada leads the way in attracting and assimilating international students (May 13, 2020)


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