ICE Rules Requiring Foreign Students to Attend in-Person University Classes Challenged in Court; DHS Rescinds Rule
Dallas, TX (Law Firm Newswire) July 21, 2020 – Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed a lawsuit in federal court on July 8, 2020, to stop the Trump Administration from implementing a new U.S. immigration policy that would force foreign students to leave the United States if they are taking only online classes amid the coronavirus pandemic. After fierce opposition to the rule, and the litigation that it generated, the Department of Homeland Security rescinded the rule on July 14, 2020.
Previously, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on July 6, 2020, that foreign students were required to take at least one in-person class in order for their F-1 student visas to remain valid. Students who were enrolled solely in online programs must depart the country immediately or transfer to an institution conducting in-person classes. The two universities had asked the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts to issue an emergency order blocking the ICE guidelines from being enforced.
“At the height of a global pandemic which so far has infected more than 12 million people worldwide, and killed more than 130,000 Americans, ICE believes the appropriate response for foreign students to maintain status is to require those students to attend classes in-person,” commented Stewart Rabinowitz of the Dallas and Frisco law firm of Rabinowitz & Rabinowitz, P.C. “Never mind what President Trump’s own Coronavirus Task Force says about avoiding groups of people where at all possible, and never mind that schools, universities, secondary and primary, are wrestling with how to conduct meaningful classes at all. The message of find a school which conducts in-person instruction or leave the U.S. is as heartless as it is dangerous. Foreign students at universities — just like American students — want to study but they also want to live. ICE’s heartlessness in a global pandemic on this issue defines depravity.”
Many U.S. universities are planning to rely exclusively on online instruction this fall after the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of campuses nationwide. Harvard and MIT noted that the ICE announcement was a reversal of the Trump Administration’s March 13, 2020, national emergency declaration. More than 50 U.S. universities have filed briefs in support of the Harvard and MIT litigation which spawned other litigation, as well.
ICE granted exemptions that allowed foreign students to attend virtual classes while retaining their F-1 visas. According to the lawsuit, ICE had stated that the arrangement was to be “in effect” throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The federal agency did not provide any rationale for its sudden reversal on the policy. Its original COVID-19 policy remains in place.
More than a million foreign students in F-1 status were struggling with uncertainty as the beginning of the new school year approaches.