HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro is filing a lawsuit with a group of 18 Attorneys General to stop a new federal rule that threatens to bar hundreds of thousands of international students from studying in the United States.
AG Shapiro is taking this action after an outpouring of concern from universities across Pennsylvania including University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and University of Pennsylvania.
“Betsy Devos’s attempt to take advantage of an international pandemic—to push a cynical, partisan agenda that threatens the health and safety of young people who want to pursue an education—is cruel, illegal, and puts our already fragile economy at risk,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “I’m working hard to ensure that students in Pennsylvania can safely continue their education at universities across the Commonwealth in the fall, without fear of partisan interference.”
Today’s lawsuit challenges an abrupt policy change by ICE to reverse guidance issued on March 13 that recognized the COVID-19 public health emergency, provided flexibility for schools, and allowed international students with F-1 and M-1 visas to take classes online for the duration of the emergency. On July 6, ICE announced that international students can no longer live in the United States and take all of their classes online during the pandemic. This upends months of careful planning by colleges and universities to limit in-person instruction in favor of remote learning and adapt their coursework for the fall semester, and leaves thousands of students with no other choice but to leave the country.
ICE further demanded that educational institutions advise the federal government by July 15 whether they intend to offer only remote courses in the fall semester, and to certify by August 4 for each of the institutions’ international students that the student’s upcoming coursework this fall will be in person or a “hybrid” of in-person and online learning in order to maintain their visa status. This demand comes not only amidst an ongoing nationwide emergency, but also at a time when many faculty, staff, and students are not on campus and may not even be in the country; students may not even have registered for their classes for the fall; and schools and individual teaching staff members may not yet have determined whether their classes will be held remotely, in person, or a combination.
The lawsuit details the substantial harms that the new rule places on schools and students. It also alleges that the federal government’s actions are arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion because they reversed previous guidance without explanation, input, or rationale – in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act – and failed to consider the need to protect public health and safety amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Attorneys General say the new rule and abrupt reversal of the previous guidance threatens their states in a number of ways:
- Fails to consider the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff;
- Fails to consider the tremendous costs and administrative burden it would impose on schools to readjust plans and certify students;
- Fails to consider that, for many international students, remote learning in their home countries is not possible;
- Imposes significant financial harm to schools, as international students pay hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition, housing, dining, and other fees;
- Imposes harm to schools’ academic, extracurricular, and cultural communities, as international students contribute invaluable perspectives and diverse skillsets; and
- Forces colleges and universities to offer in-person classes amid a pandemic or lose significant numbers of international students who will either have to leave the country, transfer, or disenroll from the school.
The lawsuit also alleges the new rule imposes significant economic harm by precluding thousands of international students from coming to and residing in the United States and finding employment in fields such as science, technology, biotechnology, healthcare, business and finance, and education, and contributing to the overall economy.
Joining Massachusetts and Pennsylvania in today’s lawsuit are the Attorneys General of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.