Home >News >World >A new US student visa rule after lawsuits filed by Harvard, MIT
People walk past an entrance to Widener Library, behind, on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge. (AP)
People walk past an entrance to Widener Library, behind, on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge. (AP)

A new US student visa rule after lawsuits filed by Harvard, MIT

  • Lawyers for Harvard and MIT in the suit didn’t respond to calls seeking comment on the new policy
  • Now, under Friday’s policy, international students already in the US can stay, even at schools that have declared fully online instruction

When the Trump administration reversed itself this month on a new rule requiring foreign students at US universities to take at least one in-person class, even amid the pandemic, the question was what would happen next.

The answer came on Friday, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that newly enrolled students abroad can’t come to the U.S. to start at a university that’s going online-only in the fall.

That’s what Harvard University, among others, is doing to cope with the highly contagious coronavirus. It was in the wake of a lawsuit by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- among other litigation and a groundswell of opposition -- that ICE rescinded the July 6 policy, which could have sent thousands of students back to their home countries and created chaos for schools.

Now, under Friday’s policy, international students already in the US can stay, even at schools that have declared fully online instruction, but new students still abroad are out of luck.

Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana appeared to anticipate the announcement in a letter on Tuesday telling new international students they wouldn’t be able to come to campus for the coming semester.

“We abhor any policies that seek to force us to choose between our community’s health and the education of our international students," Khurana said.

The letter suggests Harvard has no immediate plans to take the Trump administration back to court over the issue, said Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, who said she wasn’t surprised by ICE’s directive.

“It’s much easier to have strict rules about who’s allowed to come into the country versus strict rules for people who are already in the United States," Gelatt said.

Lawyers for Harvard and MIT in the suit didn’t respond to calls seeking comment on the new policy.

Before the pandemic, the student visas at issue set a maximum of one online class, largely because ICE holds that there’s no reason for students to be in the U.S. if all their coursework is online.

Friday’s directive goes back to guidance ICE issued in early March permitting online-only coursework to meet the national health crisis. But the March rules didn’t take into account students arriving from abroad, since it was the middle of the semester, leaving them in limbo.

Among those who rushed to Harvard and MIT’s side during the litigation were Democratic members of Congress. The defense authorization bill that passed the House on July 21 includes an amendment from Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley​​ that would allow international students, both incoming and current, to study in the U.S. fully online. The bill still has to be reconciled with its Senate version.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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