Asia Business Channel

California State, Harvard and MIT sue US over administrations effort to ban foreign students


‘The effect – and perhaps even the goal – is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible”

The California State attorney general’s office, along with Harvard University and MIT universities are among entities that are suing the Trump administration regarding its order bar and deport foreign students from the US if their schools are not holding in-person classes this fall.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday that challenges the Trump administration policy that would bar foreign students from entering the US if there universities are not holding in-person classes and only offering students online learning opportunities.

Students who are already in the US are supposed to declare themselves to the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and advise the government of when they will ‘voluntarily’ leave. An ICE official said that if students do not declare themselves, and if ICE initiates deportation proceedings that students could lose their ability to return to the US for at least five years.

Without naming China specifically in their lawsuit, Harvard and MIT said that the governments new regulations, and the suddenness of their implementation is a dangerous precedent that will lead to international students rethinking whether they should enroll in US colleges, universities and vocational education programs in the future.

The lawsuit by Harvard and MIT said: “For many students, returning to their home countries to participate in online instruction is impossible, impracticable, prohibitively expensive and/or dangerous and is a cudgel to compel universities to alter their plans for the fall. The effect – and perhaps even the goal – is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible.

The document submitted to the federal court by the two universities also criticizes the order for not offering a notice-and-comment period and for a longer period of implementation.

Many educational institutions across the US had said that they would not make a decision on reopening of in-person classes until the middle of August after determining the spread of Covid-19 in their individual communities and receiving advice from their local health authorities.


International students are projected to inject $48 billion USD into the American economy this year

It’s estimated that approximately 1.1 million international students planned to study in the US this academic year, with over 360,000 being students from China, 200,000 from India, 52,000 from South Korea and 10,000+ from Southeast Asia.

For many of these students, being forced to return to their home countries and then trying to study online is impractical for both political and technology reasons.

China is a prime example of the impracticality with many Chinese students reading and studying literature that is prohibited by mainland Chinese authorities, so these students will not be able to access educational materials needed for there studies.

On the other side, Southeast Asia is a prime reflection of technology problems, with some countries in the region having non-optimal internet connectivity in their local areas. Additionally, if classes are to be taught only online, many Chinese, Indian, South Korean and Southeast Asia students will have difficulties in accessing lessons because of time zone differences.

As one grad level student from Indonesia said, “It’s going to be difficult to study with my classmates on the East Coast of the US when there are 12 hour differences in time.”

Yun Sun, a Senior Associate in the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center in Washington. DC said, “Given the internet restrictions in China, students may not be able to do online courses as the administration thinks they could. Opening the websites of certain American institutions in China is painstakingly slow, making online video lectures impossible. Some of them are not accessible at all.”

Diane Hernandez, an immigration lawyer at the firm of Hall Estill commented on the new Trump administration policy and said, “It is incredibly unrealistic to expect these students to make short-term international travel plans, for themselves and their family members, which are prohibitively expensive, and many destinations remain inaccessible due to closures and restrictions related to the coronavirus,.”

She added that, “Since US consulates remain closed abroad, it is risky for foreign nationals to leave the US at this time since re-entry is impossible if a new visa is required, and the Trump administration continues implementing restrictions against non-immigrant workers for re-entry to the US.”

The Trump administration, seeking to justify its policy points to the comments of press secretary Kayleigh McEnany who said “You don’t get a visa for taking online classes from, let’s say, University of Phoenix, so why would you if you were just taking online classes generally?”

The emergency restraining order that Harvard and MIT are requesting would provide a temporary relief for the 9,000+ students study at the two universities and would alleviate a substantial bureaucratic scramble: schools offering a hybrid of online and in-class curricula would need to submit a form for each international student intending to remain in the US for those courses.

Lawrence Bacow, the President of Harvard University said in a statement that, “We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students – and international students at institutions across the country – can continue their studies without the threat of deportation.”

He added that, “The order came down without notice – its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness. 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.”

Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and another critic of the new Trump administration policy noted that the rushed nature of the ICE directive, with students’ ability of returning to the US limited by the Covid-19 pandemic, aligns with anti-immigration and nativist goals within US President Donald Trump’s administration and a generally hostile attitude towards “elites.”

Kennedy said, “The Trump administration isn’t concerned about the problems of students from Asia The purpose of this policy appears to be to force colleges to open up more fully, to reduce the number of international students in the US and to portray the administration as fighting against the ‘liberal elite’.”




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