Foreign students visa row:  Harvard University, MIT sue Trump

The prestigious Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sued the Trump administration in the federal court on Wednesday over new rules barring international students from staying in the US, if their classes are taught entirely online. The order impacts thousands of Indian students as it strips international college students of their US visas and threatens them with deportation. According to a report, India sent the largest number of students (251,290) to the US after China (478,732) in 2017 and 2018.

Several protests erupted both abroad and within the US after the new directive was issued. Filed in the US District Court in Boston, the suit alleged that the policy issued by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failed to provide the public with notice and the opportunity to comment on this new rule.

The lawsuit by Harvard and MIT seeks a temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of the July 6 directive. On July 6, even though the government has not ended its declaration of a national state of emergency, ICE rescinded the March 13 guidance, stating that students attending entirely online programmes may not remain in or be allowed to enter the country.

Several Congressmen and top American educational institutions decried the Trump administration's policy change that will require international students in the US with an F-1 visa to take at least one in-person course or else face the prospect of deportation.

Congressman Bennie Thompson, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, and Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, chairwoman of the Border Security, Facilitation and Operations Subcommittee, said that the new policy will damage the economy, harm the US institutions and do nothing to improve America’s security. “International students contribute billions of dollars to the US economy. Barring them from our country will deprive Americans of badly needed income. We cannot allow President (Donald) Trump to continue destroying jobs and cause needless suffering just to satisfy his anti-immigrant base. We oppose this reckless policy and the lasting harm it will cause to universities and communities across the country,” the two lawmakers said.

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne expressed concern that the decision will create more uncertainty and complexity for international students. “Our international students must be able to continue making progress towards completing their degrees, and as a university we intend to support them in doing so. We will be working with our peers and national associations to understand how best to accomplish that in the context of these new rules,” he said.

However, the State Department, which issues visas to international students, said that the decision is temporary, asserting that it will allow a mixture of both in-person and some online coursework to meet the requirements for non-immigrant student status. “International students will still have to obtain the appropriate visa and may still be subjected to other visa processing or travel restrictions due to the COVID-19. Students should check with the local US embassy or consulate for information specific to their country,” it said.

In a statement, the Embassy of India Student Hub encouraged students to monitor their university's official channels for university/programme specific information and to remain in contact with their universities for additional questions. “We will issue updates in the coming days as we receive more clarity on this broadcast message,” it said. (With IANS input)

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