Bloomberg Law
July 8, 2020, 4:54 PM

Harvard and MIT Sue ICE to Halt New Student Visa Guidelines (2)

Janet Lorin
Janet Lorin
Bloomberg News

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are seeking a court order to stop the U.S. from enforcing new visa guidelines that could cast international students out of the country if schools offer only online classes.

“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” amid the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said Wednesday in a statement.

Harvard President Lawrence Bacow
Photographer: Michael Fein/Bloomberg

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency issued the rules Monday, barring visas for applicants studying at colleges offering only virtual instruction. Students on existing visas who want to remain in the U.S. must transfer to a school with in-person instruction or attend an institution that offers both remote and on-campus learning, according to ICE.

Harvard is seeking a temporary restraining order against the new guidelines. Presiding over the case is U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston, who ruled for Harvard in the case alleging it discriminates against Asian-Americans in admissions. She scheduled a status conference for Thursday.

Colleges have begun rolling out pandemic plans for the fall semester, with many offering some form of limited in-person classes. Harvard said about 40% of students would return to its campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while all courses will be taught remotely.

As it is, universities that rely heavily on international students, who typically pay full price, are uncertain how many undergraduates will come if their college experience is altered by coronavirus testing, masks and limited social interaction. About 1.1 million international students were studying at U.S. colleges in the 2018-19 school year, according to the most recent data from the Institute of International Education. The highest number, more than a third, come from China, followed by India and South Korea.

Read More: Harvard Says U.S. Visa Rules Upend College Pandemic Planning

Since the visas are for study in the U.S., an exclusively online education defeats the purpose, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said inan interview on Fox Business, adding that the new requirements are “actually providing them more flexibility” by increasing the number of online classes they can take from one to three.

In the wide-ranging interview, Wolf also said Chinese espionage and theft of intellectual property included sending researchers to the U.S. to spy and report back to Beijing.

“China is really playing that long game, and we’ve got to be very, very concerned about that, whether they’re using our immigration system and our visa system, whether they’re coming over as researchers, as students and then they’re sending that information back,” he said.

Colleges denounced the guidance.

Amherst College President Biddy Martin called the new rules “baffling” and “terrible.”

“It makes no sense whatsoever to have international students penalized because institutions have made the best possible decisions regarding the health and safety of their campuses in a pandemic,” Martin said in a statement. “The inability to predict the course of the pandemic also means that colleges and universities across the country may have to move all classes online at some point.”

Read More: Chinese Students Fear Deportation Under Revised Rules

Regina Calcaterra, first vice chair of the Foundation of the State University of New York at New Paltz, said in a statement that the directive is “the latest in a string of attacks against both immigrant and international students, as well as institutions of higher education.”

The new rule “forces colleges and universities nationwide into a state of disarray” and will “remove the tuition dollars that are needed to ensure that students will be returning to safe facilities when they do reopen,” said Calcaterra, founding partner of Calcaterra Pollack LLP, which isn’t involved in the litigation.

The directive undermines decades of collaboration between the U.S. and other countries, especially in fields that bolster the country’s economy, University of California President Janet Napolitano said in a statement on Tuesday. Napolitano, who led the Department of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama, said colleges need to “protect the safety and well-being of their communities and the public at large” and called the new rules “perplexing.”

The case is President and Fellows of Harvard College v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 20-cv-11283, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts.

(Updates with Wolf interview and statements from Amherst and Calcaterra)

--With assistance from Tina Davis, Kathleen Miller and Clare Roth.

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Janet Lorin in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Sam Mamudi at

Peter Jeffrey, Anthony Lin

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