On July 8th, Harvard and MIT (with several other school joining the lawsuit) filed a lawsuit in District Court in Boston against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in order to overturn the order banning international students from taking online classes in the Fall, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
The July 6th order mandates that under the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), students attending schools operating entirely online may no longer take a full online course load and remain in the country (and others who are outside the U.S. would not be able to enter the country to enroll in such programs). Instead, students would be forced to either transfer to a school offering in-person instruction or run the risk of being deported by ICE.
President Trump has not been a supporter of the online instruction route. At a forum at the White House, he stated: “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open,”. It’s very important for our country. It’s very important for the well-being of the student and the parents. So we’re going to be putting a lot of pressure on: Open your schools in the fall.” With the constant pressure on the States to re-open, many schools are taking the risk and opening for face-to-face instruction, despite the surging pandemic.
With the ongoing confusion and panic, on July 7th, DHS issued an FAQ published by the agency, and stated that “all students scheduled to study at a U.S. institution in the fall will be able to do so, though some will be required to study from abroad if their presence is not required for any in-person classes in the United States.”
Despite President Trump’s added pressure on the schools, on July 14th, the Federal government reversed the policy directive and is now allowing international students to stay in the U.S. while taking online classes this fall. With the uproar and criticism from universities, legal experts and higher education advocates, it is was a sure win for Harvard University and MIT to come to a settlement with the government. The rule was deemed unfairly punitive for international students to rescind the policy directive, which could have impacted some 1 million international students.
While it appears, for now, international students have won the battle, there is nothing to prevent further restrictions and bans in the near future. There are still several months where the current administration can take further action.