(Reuters) – Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have asked a federal court to temporarily block a Trump administration rule that would bar foreign students from remaining in the United States if their universities are not holding in-person classes this fall, Harvard’s president said on Wednesday.
Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, in an email addressed to the Harvard community, said: “Within the last hour, we filed pleadings together with MIT in the US District Court in Boston seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of the order. 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.”
The move by Harvard and MIT, two of the most elite U.S. universities, comes two days after the Trump administration issued an order that could force tens of thousands of foreign students to leave the country if their schools hold all classes online. Harvard had announced it would hold all classes online in the coming fall term.
The Trump administration announcement blindsided academic institutions grappling with the logistical challenges of safely resuming classes as the coronavirus pandemic continues unabated around the world, and surges in the United States.
It also marked an unexpected reversal of exceptions to the rules limiting online learning for foreign students when colleges and universities in March rushed to shutter campuses and move to virtual classes as the pandemic forced lockdowns.
“The order came down without notice – its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness,” Bacow’s email said. “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.”
There are more than a million foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities, and many schools depend on revenue from foreign students, who often pay full tuition.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said institutions moving entirely to online learning must submit plans to the agency by July 15. Schools that will use only in-person learning, shortened or delayed classes, or a blend of in-person and online learning must submit plans by Aug. 1.
The guidance applies to holders of F-1 and M-1 visas, which are for academic and vocational students.
Reporting By Dan Burns; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum.