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Urgent deadline approaches for international college students fighting to stay in US

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- With an urgent deadline approaching Wednesday, the collective force of California's three public systems of higher education, which educate nearly 3 million students, have joined the legal fight to stop federal immigration authorities from banning international students from the U.S. if they take only online courses this fall.

Two separate lawsuits by the University of California and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra with California State University and California Community Colleges have put the nation's premier public research university and the two largest public higher education systems behind the effort to stop the federal order.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a July 6 directive that requires international students taking only online classes to leave the country and bans visas from being issued to new students with similar all-online course schedules.

Under the new policy, campuses that are planning fully online instruction this fall must submit a revised plan for in-person courses for their international students by Wednesday. Those planning a mix of online and in-person classes must do so by Aug. 4. The three California systems, whose campuses are variously planning fall courses to be all or mostly online, say the deadlines are nearly impossible to meet.

Other lawsuits have been filed by MIT and Harvard University, with 180 colleges and universities joining an amicus brief, and by seven international graduate students at USC, UC Irvine and UCLA.

The University of California filed its federal lawsuit late Friday in the Northern District of California arguing that the federal directive would devastate the roughly 37,500 international students who study at UC campuses. The directive also would jeopardize UC research and hinder instruction, since the majority of teaching assistants are graduate students, many of them from other countries, the lawsuit alleged.


At UC Berkeley, for example, 29% of all graduate students, and approximately 50% of all engineering graduate students could be forced to leave the country unless they take in-person classes. At UCLA, 1 out of 5 graduate students is from another country.

"ICE's decision displays a callous disregard for students, who would be forced to return to crowded classrooms, and faculty -- particularly older faculty to whom COVID-19 poses a greater risk -- consigned to the same fate," the lawsuit says. "And to force such a reopening when neither the students nor the universities have sufficient time to react to or address the additional risks to the health and safety of their communities creates chaos and only increases the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus."

In addition, the loss of thousands of international students, who pay full tuition, would greatly harm university finances and the ability to use the revenue for financial aid for Californians, the lawsuit argues.

The second lawsuit, filed by Becerra in the Northern District on Thursday, noted that the federal directive would bring "immediate and irreparable" injury to the state and its educational institutions. The 115-campus state community college system hosts 21,754 international students and the 23-campus Cal State system had anticipated a fall enrollment of 10,300 students from outside the country.


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