Two days after the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, a division of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students in the US will have to leave the country if their university goes fully online, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have filed a lawsuit against ICE in the US District Court in Boston seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting the directiveâ€™s enforcement.
The lawsuit states that the change of rules did consider the extraordinary circumstances COVID-19 has created for international students and that the impact of the directive is immediate and severe.
The ICE rules stated that the student must leave the country if their course goes online completely or must take other measures to still be eligible for their visa. This includes transferring to another school with in-person instruction. Otherwise, students attending schools adopting a mix of online and in person classes â€świll be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online,â€ť ICE said.
With students being asked to either leave the country or transfer to another university, the lawsuit states that this late in the summer, it is highly unlikely students can apply for let alone successfully obtain such transfers.
â€śMany of these students do not have the means to safely travel outside of the country and face substantial barriers to online learning as a result of unavailable or unreliable internet connections, time zone variations, and other obstacles,â€ť Harvard and MIT said.
It also highlighted that students cannot maintain their full-time student status and will lose their ability to access work allowances in the summer and fall 2021 because they are required to maintain their F-1 status for the full academic year preceding their access to practical training.
The lawsuit has alleged that this directive reflects an effort by the US government to force universities to reopen and offer in-person classes.
This, the lawsuit states, would require housing students in densely packed residential halls, notwithstanding the universitiesâ€™ judgment that â€śit is neither safe nor educationally advisable to do soâ€ť.
â€śAnd to force such a reopening when neither the students nor the universities have sufficient time to react to or address the additional risks to the health and safety of their communities. The effectâ€”and perhaps even the goalâ€”is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible,â€ť Harvard said.
The lawsuit has also alleged that the ICE guidance violates the Administrative Procedures Act on the grounds that it didn't consider important aspects of the problem before making the announcement, and that the guidance does not offer a reasonable basis to justify the policy and that it failed to provide the public with notice and the opportunity to comment on it.
The university has therefore sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief preventing the government from enforcing the policy announced in ICEâ€™s July 6 directive.
In a statement published by Harvard, the university said that for many of their international students, â€śstudying in the United States and studying at Harvard is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.â€ť
It added that these students enrich the learning environment for everyone. â€śHarvard, like many other institutions, has sought to balance addressing concerns for public health during this global pandemic with preserving our academic mission of teaching and scholarship. We have done so recognizing that the unprecedented and unpredictable nature of the pandemic poses risks to the health of millions and threatens to overwhelm our capacity to manage it,â€ť it added.
The relief sought by Harvard and MIT in the lawsuit include a temporary restraining order and preliminary and â€śpermanent injunctive reliefâ€ť so that Harvard and MIT do not have to enforce the policy, an order vacating the new policy, that it be deemed unlawful, and other reliefs.