States, D.C. File Challenge To Trump Administration Student Visa Policy

( International students who may lose their visas are getting some support, as attorneys general from the District of Columbia and 17 states have sued the Trump administration over its recent decision.

President Donald Trump’s guidance said foreign students would have to take at least some of their classes in-person this fall to maintain their visas. They wouldn’t have the option to take all their classes online and stay in the country legally.

The case, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, names the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security as defendants. In addition to seeking to overturn the policy, the suit asks that it is prevented from being effective while the case is being heard in court.

Maura Healey, the attorney general of Massachusetts, is heading the multi-state suit. In a statement, she said:

“The Trump Administration didn’t even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses. [The guidance] fails to consider the harm to international students and their families whose lives will be upended … [it] will also cause irreparable harm to the public health and the economy.”

Last week, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard filed suits against the Trump administration guidance. Almost 100 members of Congress also sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security to overturn the policy.

Other states who joined the lawsuit include Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, Nevada, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Oregon, Michigan, Vermont and Wisconsin.

The Trump administration didn’t breaking a mold when it passed this guidance. Requirements for obtaining student visas to come to the United States have always been difficult and strict. In fact, it has never been possible for a student to come to the U.S. on a visa to take online courses only.

Those against the policy say it is difficult to comply with during the coronavirus pandemic, when many schools around the country are going to online-only courses in the fall to stop the spread of the virus. Some international students may not have a choice but to take all their classes online if they are attending a school that cancels all in-person classes.

And even if their school does have in-person classes, this policy is forcing the international students into the classroom, whether they feel safe doing so or not.

The California State University system, for example, has already said classes at all of its campuses will be online only for the fall semester. While the state didn’t joined the lawsuit filed this week, Attorney General Xavier Becerra said California would file its own challenge.

ICE has said the prohibition on online-only courses is in line with previous guidance. It also said it is providing some flexibility so students could take a hybrid of online and in-person classes.

ICE suggested students who attend a college that is online-only in the fall look into transferring to another school that is offering in-class instruction. As Ken Cuccinelli, the acting chief of Homeland Security, said last week:

“If a school isn’t going to open or if they’re going to be 100% online, then we wouldn’t expect people to be here for that.”