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Harvard and MIT sue Trump administration over visa policy

Chinese and Indians to be hardest hit by new policy barring them from country

Hours after Harvard University announced its fall semester is going online, the U.S. government said international students will have to leave the country without in-person instruction. (Photo courtesy of Harvard University)

NEW YORK -- Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. over a new rule that would bar international students from staying in the country if fall semester classes are held online.

The suit, filed in a Massachusetts district court, came two days after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unveiled policies that would force foreign students on F-1 and M-1 visas to leave the country. Over a million students, from all over the world, are on those visas.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said his administration is "very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools" this fall and claimed that schools wanted to stay closed "for political reasons."

The U.S. reported over 60,000 new COVID-19 cases the same day, setting another record. Over 40,000 patients with the infectious disease are hospitalized, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project.

The move is part of the Trump administration's use of the pandemic as a rationale for a broader crackdown on legal immigrants, efforts that heavily affect Asians.

"The order came down without notice -- its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness," said Larry Bacow, president of Harvard, which announced earlier this week that its fall semester is going online due to coronavirus concerns.

"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," Bacow wrote Wednesday in a letter to the Harvard community.

Critics of the administration's policy argue that students may not have access in their home countries to the resources, such as high-speed internet and libraries, necessary for online learning. Those from Asia would also have to attend classes with an up to 12-hour time difference.

Simply complying with the order and traveling home might be a struggle. China, which still has a so-called Five One policy in place, only allows in one flight a day from a foreign country.

During the 2018-19 school year, over 300,000 F-1 visa holders were Chinese, and more than 200,000 were Indians, according to the Institute of International Education.

International students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, per the Department of Commerce. And for every seven students who choose to study in the U.S., three American jobs are created, according to NAFSA, an international educators' association.

Foreign students tend to pay higher tuition fees, which in turn helps fund American higher education and its research efforts.

Late last month, Trump also implemented rules barring the new issuance of work visas, including the H-1B, which many Asian tech workers, especially from India, rely on. The move by the U.S. president was ostensibly to help American workers during the country's economic recovery from COVID-19.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, spoke out for international students Tuesday while criticizing his political rival.

"Across the world, people come to this country with unrelenting optimism and determination toward the future," Biden said in a tweet. "They study here, innovate here, they make America who we are. Donald Trump doesn't get that -- we need a president who does."

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