The threat of cancellation of visas of foreign students’ in the United States whose courses have completely gone online as a result of coronavirus is thickening. Worried about the impact of the decision on the students, two premier universities – Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have filed a restraining order against the Home Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE.

The new regulation issued by ICE on Monday says international students attending colleges in the U.S. cannot stay in the country if their classes are held fully online and not in a classroom.

In a provost letter to students on July 1, University of Southern California announced that undergraduates will be “primarily or exclusively” taking classes online in the fall term.

“The risks and expenses are too high for a returning trip to the U.S., and I’d rather take online classes at home,” said a student, who will be a senior this year.

Thousands of international students must therefore make difficult decisions under ICE’s new rule. If they opt for online courses only, they can be forced out or barred from entering the U.S. To remain in the country, they will have to take in-person classes despite any concerns of contracting the coronavirus.

“This administration clearly is not one that’s welcoming to immigrants, and this extended very clearly to international students as well,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “It also places a lot of pressure on international students to try to attend in-person classes, which many might be uncomfortable with.”

The policy has pushed some schools and universities to reconsider fall academic plans while many vowed to protect their international students. The University of Texas at El Paso said in a statement Tuesday the university will work with each of its more than 1,400 international students individually to meet federal requirements for an F-1 student visa.

Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration Wednesday over the policy, requesting a temporary restraining order to pause its implementation. Harvard has said it will offer classes only online this fall, while MIT plans to invite some students to campus for a mix of in-person and online classes, while keeping the rest of its students online. Several other universities had joined the suit by late Wednesday.


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