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AG Nessel Joins Multistate Lawsuit Seeking Nationwide Injunction Against New Visa Rule for International Students

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of attorneys general in filing a lawsuit to stop a new federal rule that threatens to bar hundreds of thousands of international students from studying in the United States.

The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), challenges what the attorneys general call the federal government’s “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.” The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the entire rule from going into effect. 

“International students play an incredibly valuable role in the learning process at Michigan’s colleges and universities, and contribute not only to the vibrant culture of those institutions but also to our local economies,” Nessel said. “This is just another example of the Trump administration using our educational system to make a political statement, at the expense of our students and schools. I am proud to stand alongside my colleagues in calling for an end to this dangerous rule, which ultimately could endanger lives and further strain the financial health of our educational institutions and our states.” 

Today’s lawsuit challenges an abrupt policy change by ICE to reverse guidance issued on March 13 that recognized the COVID-19 public health emergency, provided flexibility for schools, and allowed international students with F-1 and M-1 visas to take classes online for the duration of the emergency. On July 6, ICE announced that international students can no longer live in the United States and take all of their classes online during the pandemic, upending months of careful planning by colleges and universities to limit in-person instruction in favor of remote learning and adapt their coursework for the fall semester, and leaving thousands of students with no other choice but to leave the country. 

ICE further demanded that educational institutions advise the federal government by July 15 whether they intend to offer only remote courses in the fall semester, and to certify by Aug. 4 for each of the institutions’ international students that the student’s upcoming coursework this fall will be in person or a “hybrid” of in-person and online learning in order to maintain their visa status. This demand comes not only during an ongoing nationwide emergency, but also at a time when many faculty, staff and students are not on campus and may not even be in the country; students may not even have registered for their fall classes, and schools and individual teaching staff members may not yet have determined whether their classes will be held remotely, in person or a combination. 

The lawsuit details the substantial harms that the new rule places on schools and students. It also alleges that the federal government’s actions are arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion because they reversed previous guidance without explanation, input or rationale – in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act – and failed to consider the need to protect public health and safety amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The attorneys general say the new rule and abrupt reversal of the previous guidance threatens their states in several ways: 

  • Fails to consider the health and safety of students, faculty and staff; 
  • Fails to consider the tremendous costs and administrative burden it would impose on schools to readjust plans and certify students;  
  • Fails to consider that, for many international students, remote learning in their home countries is not possible; 
  • Imposes significant financial harm to schools, as international students pay hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition, housing, dining and other fees;
  • Imposes harm to schools’ academic, extracurricular and cultural communities, as international students contribute invaluable perspectives and diverse skillsets; and
  • Forces colleges and universities to offer in-person classes amid a pandemic or lose significant numbers of international students who will either have to leave the country, transfer or disenroll from the school.

The lawsuit also alleges the new rule imposes significant economic harm by precluding thousands of international students from coming to and residing in the United States and finding employment in fields such as science, technology, biotechnology, health care, business and finance, and education, and contributing to the overall economy.

Attorney General Nessel joins the lawsuit alongside the attorneys general from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. 

Click here to view a copy of the lawsuit