The recent increase in coronavirus cases has pushed the US to reconsider several decisions including those related to easing restrictions and openings. With the worsening conditions of the pandemic in the country, Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has given new visa rulings in the US regarding F1 and M1 visas, which are usually required by foreign students enrolled in colleges in the US.
According to the new rulings by the immigration services, visas will be withdrawn from any foreign students in the country if the universities are unable to open and resume classes in the month of August. Foreign students will instead be required to return and take online classes from the next session.
Many foreign students enrolled in different programs in US universities have harshly criticized the decision. Currently, air travel is limited in many parts of the world. Not only will the students not be able to return to their respective homelands but will also be at the risk of being deported from the US.
In response to the ICE rulings, universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Unversity have announced that they will be filing a lawsuit against the immigration services.
Harvard President Lawrence Bacow has confirmed the university’s stance on the ruling that takes away visas from foreign students, saying “cruelty [is] surpassed only by its recklessness”. Prior to the decision, Harvard University had already confirmed that all courses for the fall session are to be held online.
During the start of the new semester, nearly forty percent of the students were to remain in on-campus housing facilities of the university. The new visa rulings in the US came a few days after Harvard’s announcement and stated that foreign students will be required to leave. Any student who fails to do so can also face deportation as a result.
The decision to sue ICE by both MIT and Harvard was criticized by the president of the US, Donald Trump on Twitter, who emphasized the importance of reopening schools across the country in autumn. In his latest tweet, the president also threatened to cut off funding to schools if they are unable to reopen.
However, the lawsuit by both the universities was already filed on Wednesday in Boston. Currently, the lawsuit asks for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against the ICE decision as well as a restraining order. According to the lawsuit, the visa ruling destroys the education at MIT, Harvard, and in all the higher education institutes in the US.
Moreover, it also says that the ruling “proceeded without any indication of having considered the health of students, faculty, university staff, or communities and leaves hundreds of thousands of international students with no educational options within the United States.”
At the beginning of the coronavirus in the US, the Student and Exchange Visitor Programme under the immigration services had provided the option of staying in the US to foreign students for online classes.
However, the exemption was only limited to spring and summer semesters. With the start of a new session, the new ICE rulings will no longer allow students to stay in the country. The new visa rulings in the US primarily affected students who have been granted F1 and M1 visas.
Statistically, 373,000 of such visas were given to students only in the past year. Overall, the Institute of International Education (IIE) reports that there are over one million foreign students studying in the country. According to the US Department of Commerce, these students have added more than $45bn to the country’s economy.
The ICE ruling has received major backlash but the president supports the decision and has stated that it is an ‘easy way out’ especially during the current situation of coronavirus in the US.