Universities react to shocking decision on F-1 student visas in the US
Harvard and MIT have filed a joint lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. Source: Maddie Meyer/AFP

Approximately one million international students on F-1 and M-1 student visas are currently at risk of a hasty deportation from the United States due to a new rule announced by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) on Monday.

The latest statement from ICE indicates that international students must leave the US if their universities are delivering all courses online for the fall semester. They can stay if universities are adopting the hybrid learning model —  a combination of online learning and in-person classes.

If they don’t leave, they could be found in violation of their F-1 student visa rules and are then subject to being deported.

The outbreak is still not under control in the US, meaning it’s still uncertain if universities can resume any in-person classes in the fall.

Under the new rule, F-1 student visas will also not be processed for international students attending online-only programmes.

In the days following the shocking announcement, universities called foul on the Trump administration, voicing their anger and expressing their disappointment with the decision.

World renown schools Massachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard have filed a joint lawsuit against ICE and the US Department of Homeland Security.

F-1 student visas

A view of the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology on July 08, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Source: Maddie Meyer/AFP

Northeastern University is backing the lawsuit, and other US universities are expected to join in.

Key points brought up in the lawsuit include:

  • The decision by ICE will leave hundreds of thousands of international students with no educational options within the United States
  • Students will face difficulty transferring to universities providing on-campus instruction, despite ICE’s suggestion that they could do so to avoid being deported
  • Returning to their home countries to participate in online  instruction is potentially “impossible, impracticable, prohibitively expensive, and/or dangerous”
  • Densely populated classrooms have the potential to turn into “super-spreader” situations, endangering the health of the university community as well as those in surrounding areas

Universities voice support for students on F-1 student visas

Shortly after the announcement, US colleges and universities began showing support for international students and condemning ICE’s decision.

An email sent to the MIT community from MIT President L. Rafael Reif reads, “The announcement disrupts our international students’ lives and jeopardizes their academic and research pursuits. ICE is unable to offer the most basic answers about how its policy will be interpreted or implemented.

“And the guidance comes after many US colleges and universities either released or are readying their final decisions for the fall — decisions designed to advance their educational mission and protect the health and safety of their communities.”

Reif also assured international students that despite their current confusion and concern about whether they’re truly welcome in the US, they have the full support of the university.

Harvard University President Lawrence “Larry” Seldon Bacow also expressed support for international students, as well as disappointment over the announcement.

“The order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness. 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.”

He also stressed that this announcement is coming at a time when the US is setting daily records for the number of new infections, with more than 300,000 new cases reported since July.

Bacow expressed concern that if an institution were to pursue in-person or hybrid instruction this fall and a serious outbreak of COVID-19 occurs, they would face strong pressure to not switch to online instruction because doing so it would immediately place international students in jeopardy.

f-1 student visas

Harvard and MIT have filed a joint lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. Source: Maddie Meyer/AFP

The University of California (UC) university system is also planning to file a lawsuit of their own against the federal government on the grounds of “violating the rights of the University and its students.”

A statement by the UC Office of the President reads, “The lawsuit will seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to bar ICE from enforcing an order that UC President Janet Napolitano called “mean-spirited, arbitrary and damaging to America.”

Iowa’s public universities — the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Iowa — have also issued statements showing support for international students, along with Indiana University (IU) and a growing number of US universities.

Stay tuned to Study International for the latest developments on this decision.

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