Editor’s Note (4:24 p.m. 7/14/20): These guidelines are no longer in place, as Harvard and MIT were successful in their lawsuit.
UR will be joining New York University in filing an amicus brief — a legal statement from affected parties not involved in the case with additional arguments and information — in MIT and Harvard’s lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If the lawsuit is unsuccessful, UR will take the necessary actions to ensure students can continue their studies in Rochester.
The amicus brief was announced by University President Sarah Mangelsdorf and Provost and Senior Vice President for Research Robert Clark in an email statement of solidarity to the UR community.
ICE’s COVID-19 guidelines, released on July 6, require that students studying at hybrid model universities like UR have some in-person component to their study if they wish to spend the fall semester in the United States — this component can be fulfilled by a single hybrid course.
“This is terrible policy guidance and terribly written,” Vice Provost for Global Engagement Jane Gatewood said in the International Students Office (ISO) virtual town hall held last Friday, calling the actions “xenophobic and pernicious.”
MIT and Harvard claim in the lawsuit that the guidelines attempt to force universities to fully open and host in-person courses for the fall. They claim this is irresponsible and disregards public health. The original COVID-19 guidelines, issued in March, exempted international students from only being allowed one completely online course per semester. The March guidelines allowed students to take all courses online without losing their immigration status, and were supposed to be “in effect for the duration of the emergency,” according to the lawsuit.
The schools claim that universities planned for the fall according to those guidelines, heavily relying on online courses to keep their campuses safe and outbreak-free. MIT and Harvard argue that the initial “emergency” is still going on, and therefore the new ICE guidelines are “arbitrary, capricious,” and “an abuse of discretion.”
There have been several hearings in Boston surrounding the case, with another one scheduled for Tuesday, July 14 at 3 p.m.
Gatewood said in the town hall that by the middle of this week, the judge will either issue a stay or a final decision on whether to permanently throw the guidelines out. The stay would temporarily prevent the government from enforcing the guidelines until they are reviewed and a more permanent decision is reached.
If the fall guidelines remain what they currently are, Gatewood explained that students at UR will be mostly able to stay in the States thanks to UR’s hybrid model. Students will be required to have an in-person component to at least one of their courses, but Gatewood stressed it can be a very small portion of the course. She also said the University is putting a lot of “creative thinking” into incorporating in-person components for as many courses as they can.
Although still under review, Gatewood said international students should also be allowed to stay in the U.S. after Thanksgiving, when UR switches to a completely online model, or in the case of a mid-semester outbreak causing UR to transition online.
To study in the United States, international students must have an “active” immigration status in the Study and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), the online program used by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). An active status is fulfilled in part by adhering to online course guidelines set by ICE. Students are also required to have an I-20 — a document affirming a student’s status, issued by their University.
The burden to prove a student’s course of study satisfies the guidelines will fall mostly on the University, and requires them to keep a more detailed record of students’ individual courses. A school-wide survey will be sent out asking all students to indicate their enrollment for the fall, and the results of that study will also be used by the ISO to indicate individual students’ eligibility to study in the U.S.
For students looking to take a leave of absence, they will be unable to maintain their “active” status in the SEVIS, unless taking a medical leave of absence. Gatewood also said it’s unclear whether ICE will agree to change records back to active if/when a student attempts to return to their studies. After reporting a leave of absence, a student has 15 days to depart the United States. The ISO said they will delay reporting a leave of absence to prolong this period.
Students are encouraged to contact ISO advisors for questions surrounding their individual case. A recording of the town hall can be found here, and a handout summarizing the meeting can be found here.
Gatewood’s remarks throughout the town hall established that UR would take the necessary legal and creative actions to help international students continue their studies in the United States. Her words echoed Clark and Mangelsdorf’s sentiments.
“We want to state unequivocally that our international students, who contribute so much to the scholarly, social, and cultural environments at the University of Rochester, are essential to our enterprise and they are core members of our past, present, and future,” Mangelsdorf and Clark wrote.
“And we want to state unequivocally and directly to our international students: you are welcome here.”