The University of Minnesota has signaled its support for a lawsuit filed by two leading universities against a federal order that would require certain international students to leave the country.
The Immigrations and Customers Enforcement (ICE) directive issued July 6 states that nonimmigrant students who take a fully online course starting this fall must immediately leave the U.S.
It comes as universities weigh up whether students will return to in-person tuition this fall amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The order has been challenged by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. On Thursday it was announced by president Joan Gabel that the U of M would join an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit.
"Our planned hybrid teaching model this fall supports both in-person and online courses, which should reduce the impact of ICE’s decision on our nearly 6,200 international students systemwide," Gabel said.
"However, we cannot stand by in good conscience as international students are forced out of the country through no fault of their own. Educational institutions across the country are offering expanded online learning opportunities to comply with the public health advice given by another federal agency – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – to reduce large gatherings, promote physical distancing and take other precautions to minimize the spread and impact of COVID-19."
“We stand with our international students, and international students across the country, in asking that the ICE directive be overturned immediately,” Gabel added.
The order has been met with criticism among international students, with one F-1 visa holder from Pakistan telling CBS News that studying online from his home would be challenging due to "problems with electricity, internet connection, study space, mental and physical health services and the significant time zone difference would arise."
Per the Washington Post, the MIT and Harvard lawsuit also argues that ICE's decision reflects the Trump Administration's "continued efforts to limit and reduce the presence of international students in the country,"
But the administration argues it will provide more flexibility for colleges and universities and could encourage them to reopen in the fall, stating that even a small amount of in-person tuition will allow the students to stay.
President Donald Trump has been adamant that schools must reopen in the fall amid the pandemic, though he has previously expressed opposition to the notion of international students being forced to leave the U.S., as this tweet from 2015 – albeit in non-pandemic circumstances – shows.