WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today joined a coalition of 18 Attorneys General in filing a lawsuit to stop a new federal rule that threatens to block hundreds of thousands of international students from studying in the United States. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), challenges a new visa rule that prevents international students from residing in the United States if all of their classes are online. This move upends months of careful planning by colleges and universities to limit in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic and leaves hundreds of international students in the District with no other choice but to leave the country. Today’s lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the entire rule from going into effect.
On March 13, ICE issued guidance that recognized the COVID-19 public health emergency, provided flexibility for schools, and allowed international students with F-1 and M-1 visas to take classes online for the duration of the emergency. Today’s lawsuit challenges ICE’s abrupt change to that guidance announced on July 6 stating that international students who take all of their classes online during the pandemic can no longer live in the United States.
ICE further demanded that educational institutions advise the federal government by July 15 whether they intend to offer only remote courses in the fall semester. ICE also demanded schools certify by August 4 whether fall coursework for each of their international students’ will be in person or a “hybrid” of in-person and online learning in order to maintain their visa status. This demand comes not only amidst an ongoing nationwide emergency, but also at a time when many faculty, staff, and students are not on campus and may not even be in the country; students may not even have registered for their classes for the fall; and schools and individual teaching staff members may not yet have determined whether their classes will be held remotely, in person, or a combination.
The lawsuit details the substantial harms that the new rule places on schools and students. It also alleges that the federal government’s actions are arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion because they reversed previous guidance without explanation, input, or rationale—in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act—and failed to consider the need to protect public health and safety amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Attorneys General say the new rule and abrupt reversal of the previous guidance threatens their states in a number of ways:
- Fails to consider the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff;
- Fails to consider the tremendous costs and administrative burden it would impose on schools to readjust plans and certify students;
- Fails to consider that, for many international students, remote learning in their home countries is not possible;
- Imposes significant financial harm to schools, as international students pay hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition, housing, dining, and other fees;
- Imposes harm to schools’ academic, extracurricular, and cultural communities, as international students contribute invaluable perspectives and diverse skillsets; and
- Forces colleges and universities to offer in-person classes amid a pandemic or lose significant numbers of international students who will either have to leave the country, transfer, or disenroll from the school.
- Imposes significant economic harm by precluding thousands of international students from coming to and residing in the United States and finding employment in fields such as science, technology, biotechnology, healthcare, business and finance, and education, and contributing to the overall economy.
Today’s lawsuit also includes 40 declarations from a variety of institutions affected by the new rule, including Dr. William U. Latham, Chief Student Development and Success Officer at the University of the District of Columbia.
A copy of the lawsuit can be found here: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/International-Student-Visa-Complaint.pdf
AG Racine joins today’s lawsuit with the Attorneys General of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.