University of California plans to sue federal government over new international student guidelines

The University of California said Wednesday it plans to sue the federal government over new guidelines that bar international students from staying in the U.S. if they attend universities that only offer online courses this fall.

According to UC, the lawsuit will seek a temporary restraining over and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement from enforcing the new order. On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security and ICE said international students will be forced to return to their home countries or transfer to another school if their school only offers online classes in the fall.

The policy has left many universities, including UC Berkeley, to find a balance for in-person and remote classes. UC Berkeley Associate Professor of Statistics, Fernando Perez, said the policy is problematic.

“My own students who are absolutely terrified because their lives are being upended,” Perez said. This is a policy that undermines one of the greatest assets the U.S. has, which is that we basically that we get to play with the all star team of the world. We have the best higher education system in the world and it is attractive to the best students from every country.”

According to the guidance, new visas will not be given to students only taking classes online. That has prompted many professors from universities across the country to offering in-person independent study sessions. The professors have reached out to students on Twitter from universities including USC, University of Arizona, Northwestern, and Penn State.

Terry Hartle, with the American Council on Education, said the guidelines will result in confusion as schools look to reopen safely. American Council on Education represents university presidents.

“There’s a great deal of unhappiness and concern about this, because we think it is a poorly designed policy, being implemented arbitrarily, and in a way that is going to dramatically complicate efforts of colleges and universities to reopen for all students,” Hartle said.

He went on to say that the Department of Homeland Security has imposed a deadline for schools to make a decision on reopening by July 15, but not all schools will be ready to make a decision by that time.

“This policy is completely indifferent to the pandemic,” Hartle said. “It's completely indifferent to the impact that it will have on students who are already in the country. And in some senses it's cruel because it expects students to leave the country if their school isn't online and when they might not be able to do that. Some countries aren't accepting people from the U.S."

A PhD student who attends UC Berkeley spoke to KTVU on the condition that she remain anonymous. She said she is concerned because she returned to Europe after the COVID-19 outbreak to be with her grandparents. She needs to return to Berkeley to attend some classes in person in order to maintain her visa status, but she is unable to return due to the current travel ban.

“This is putting us between a rock and a hard place because the reason we are trying to do things online is for reasons of public health and public safety,” Perez said.

Chancellor Carol Christ and Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Senior International Officer Lisa Alvarez-Cohen sent a message to the campus community on Tuesday. It reads in part: “We recognize the concern and anxiety these new rules have created, and we are moving quickly to ensure that we offer the proper balance of online and in-person classes so that our students can remain in the U.S. and satisfy their visa requirements, and that those students residing outside the U.S. can maintain their enrollment status.”

Perez was born and raised in Columbia and came to the U.S. as a foreign student. He obtained his PhD in Colorado on an F1 visa.

“All of the work and all of the research and all of my accomplishments in Science today would probably not have happened if this was enacted when I was a student,” he said.

Harvard and MIT announced Wednesday they had filed a similar lawsuit against the Trump administration over the new guidelines.