BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University has joined an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit against the U.S. government challenging newly announced guidelines that would strip international students of their visas if they enroll only in online courses this fall.
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed the lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday. The universities are seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting the government from enforcing the new policy on the visa status of international students enrolled at U.S. universities for the fall 2020 semester, which was announced Monday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"IU commends the action taken by Harvard and MIT against this cruel and ill-judged order and joins them in strongly urging the federal government to rescind it," IU President Michael A. McRobbie said.
"Like many leading colleges and universities, IU is committed to doing all that we can to help reopen our nation. We are working to balance delivering the high-quality educational experience that our students want and deserve with protecting the health and safety of all of those we serve.
"During this unprecedented global health crisis, it is imperative that we and other universities retain the flexibility to allow any international student to continue their education -- regardless of whether that student is receiving that education online or in-person -- without threat of deportation. Forcing international students whose universities have opted for online-only instruction this fall to transfer to another institution or leave the country is simply wrong, misguided and indefensible."
McRobbie, who urged other colleges and universities to join in supporting the challenge to the federal visa guidelines, also currently serves as board chair of the Association of American Universities.
"IU's international students are -- and will always be -- an essential component of the fabric of our campuses," he added. "They greatly enrich our campuses and the communities we serve, and they contribute mightily to an educational environment that prepares all of our students to be globally ready when they graduate. As such, we will continue to fight for policies that protect them and ensure our nation continues to benefit from the important contributions they make to our economy and our culture."
In a statement earlier this week, IU Vice President for International Affairs Hannah Buxbaum expressed dismay at the order, which replaced the more flexible and reasonable accommodation offered to international students during the spring and summer terms. The earlier accommodation allowed those residing in the U.S. to take a fully online course load as colleges and universities responded to the growing threat of COVID-19.
Under the updated guidance, international students currently residing in the U.S. whose institutions have announced online-only plans for the fall are required to depart the country or to transfer to another school. Additionally, students who end up taking a fully online course of study because their institutions change their operational approach in the middle of the semester will likewise be required, at that point, to depart the country.
"It is unconscionable to inflict this level of uncertainty on those who have invested their time and trust in U.S. educational institutions, as it would be to force our international students to leave their homes, their classmates and their academic communities because of a university's decision made in the interest of public health and safety," Buxbaum said. "It is particularly unconscionable considering that ongoing travel restrictions and the continued suspension of routine visa issuance for students make a return to the United States far from guaranteed, jeopardizing students' academic degrees should their institutions return to normal operations."
IU plans to welcome students back to its campuses next month with a blend of in-person and online instruction. This includes IU's cohort of international students, many of whom are already living in the U.S., supporting real estate and retail markets and the needs of local employers. IU enrolled more than 7,700 international students last fall.
IU recognizes that some of its international students, particularly those just starting at the university, will not be able to arrive to campus in time for the fall semester. IU will offer them a robust course of study remotely. IU is also committed to working with its international students who remained in the U.S. to continue their studies as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to ensure that their course schedules meet the updated requirements.
Additionally, IU campuses will continue to provide international students with comprehensive services, counseling and support that advance their academic success, as well as information on the latest guidance related to COVID-19 at IU Bloomington and IUPUI, immigration- and travel-related executive orders, and student visas.