Tech groups and 17 states take on Trump over foreign student visas

The largest US technology groups and a group of state attorneys-general on Monday joined the battle against a new Trump administration rule that requires foreign students to return home if universities move to online-only courses in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft were among more than a dozen technology companies who filed a brief in support of an ongoing lawsuit brought last week by Harvard College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Separately, attorneys-general representing 17 states and the District of Columbia filed their own lawsuit seeking to block the rule, which forces foreign visa students to leave the US if their university moves to only online teaching, or to transfer to a course with physical classes.

The move by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is set to affect hundreds of thousands of international students studying in the US, and has sparked an outcry from educational institutions.

“The Trump administration didn’t even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses,” said Maura Healey, the Democratic attorney-general for Massachusetts, who is leading the attorneys-general action.

Last week, California also filed its own lawsuit seeking to block the Trump administration’s move. On Tuesday, a federal court in Boston will hear arguments in the Harvard and MIT lawsuit. All three of the lawsuits argue the government failed to follow proper administrative procedures for significant policy changes.

The brief filed by the technology companies on Monday included several lobby groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, and companies such as Adobe, Dropbox, PayPal, Salesforce and Twitter. The filing said that without international students, American universities would be less able to produce cutting edge research and to train skilled workers for their companies.

“These students contribute substantially to the US economy when they are resident in the United States. And without international students, American educational institutions face a sudden loss of critical mass,” the brief said.

Universities have been grappling with how to operate safely during the coronavirus pandemic, concerned that a return to normal in-person teaching in the autumn could help drive a new wave of infections. Some have planned to offer a mix of online and in-person to avoid falling foul of the Trump administration’s rule.

President Donald Trump has urged schools and universities to reopen as normal as he tries to restart the US economy. Last week, he said of Harvard’s move to online class: “They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

The administration has defended the new rule by arguing that visas would not ordinarily be available for online-only courses.