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California Sues Trump Administration Over International Student Visa Policy

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California has become the first state to sue the Trump administration over newly announced visa rules that could force thousands of international students to leave the country if they take classes online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the state’s legal action during a Thursday virtual news conference alongside California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley and California State University Assistant Vice Chancellor Leo Van Cleve.

“Shame on the Trump administration for risking education possibilities for students who earned the chance to study here, along with their health and wellbeing,” Becerra said in a statement.

According to the policy, “nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.”

Students on F-1 and M-1 visas “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status,” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said in a news release.

In March, ICE had made an exemption to a preexisting rule that students in the country on F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant student visas must attend a majority of classes in-person. Colleges and universities around the country have since planned the following academic year under the assumption that this exemption would remain valid and that international students would be able to stay in the country if instruction continued online.

“ICE’s rescission of that recognition failed to consider numerous weighty interests, and is itself arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion,” Harvard and MIT said in a lawsuit that was filed on Wednesday. USC, whose international population consists of a quarter of the enrolled student body, has joined an amicus brief supporting the lawsuit.

The University of California (UC) also announced plans to sue against the federal government for “violating the rights of the University and its students.” The lawsuit will seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to bar ICE from enforcing their policy, which UC President Janet Napolitano called “mean-spirited, arbitrary and damaging to America.”  

According to the UC 2019 fall enrollment data, 27,205 out of 226,125 enrolled undergraduate students were nonresident international while 13,995 of 58,941 graduate students were nonresident international.

“To UC’s international students, I say: ‘We support you and regret the additional chaos ICE’s action has caused,’” UC Board of Regents Chair John A. Pére said in a statement on Wednesday. “To the courts, I say, ‘We are the University of California. UC knows science, UC knows law, and we approach both in good faith. Our opponents have shown you time and again that they do not.’”

California would be disproportionately affected by the policy, as the state, according to Becerra, has more students on visas than any other state.

International students contributed nearly $41 billion to the national economy last year and international education is the fifth-largest U.S. service sector export.

Chelsea Pan is the 2020-2021 Managing Editor. She can be reached at manager@newuniversity.org.