Two reputable universities in the United States, Harvard and M.I.T., have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over a directive that would strip foreign students of their visas if their coursework was entirely online, the New York Times reported.
On Monday night, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that foreign students who are pursuing degrees in the U.S. will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only courses.
The new visa rule received wide criticisms. While many kicked against what they consider an aggressive and inhumane immigration policy, some see it as an effort to pressure universities into reopening despite daily rise in coronavirus cases in the U.S.,
The two universities announced on Wednesday that they are suing Mr Trump for his ‘reckless’ directive on striping foreign students of their visas without a due process.
Harvard’s president, Lawrence Bacow, said in a message to the university community that the order came down without notice — “its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness.”
“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.”
The directive may affect thousands of foreign students including Nigerians who travelled to the United States to attend universities or participate in training programmes, as well as non-academic or vocational studies.
According to the Cultural Affairs Officer of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, Malia Heroux, one-third of African students studying in the U.S. are Nigerians.
Ms Heroux said about 13,000 Nigerians and 39,000 Africans go to study in the USA yearly.
Immigrant advocates say the new rule’s effect may reduce the number of international students enrolling in the fall drastically as delays in processing visas as a result of the pandemic, may discourage many foreign students from attending American universities, where they often pay full tuition.
Not only this, there are fears that universities may become coronavirus clusters which will betray the main reason many universities adopt measures to reduce exposure by suspending in-person tuition and going online.
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Now that many universities are adopting a hybrid approach that would provide some in-person classes but offer a significant amount of coursework virtually, international students whose universities are not planning in-person classes — which is currently the case at schools including Harvard and the University of Southern California — would be required to return to their home countries if they are already in the United States.
Foreign students wanting to study in the U.S. would not be granted permission to enter the country to take online coursework.
Defending the new visa rule, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, said in an interview on CNN that the administration was providing more flexibility for international students than in the past, “when they could only take one online course to qualify for visas. Now they can take more, as long as at least some of their instruction is in person.
“If they’re not going to be a student or they’re going to be 100 per cent online, then they don’t have a basis to be here. They should go home, and then they can return when the school opens.”