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USC and coalition of western schools sues federal government over international student visas

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the federal government’s recent directive, which requires international students to take at least one in-person class to maintain their visa status.

Bovard Administration Building
Bovard Administration Building stands at the heart of the USC University Park Campus. (USC Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

A coalition of 20 leading colleges and universities in the West sued the federal government Monday to block the Department of Homeland Security from revoking the visas of international students whose studies will be entirely online in the fall.

“Our country cannot afford to lose the vital diversity of thought and experience international students bring to our universities,” USC President Carol L. Folt said in an email to the university community. “At USC, we are preparing the next generation of leaders to enter an increasingly diverse society at a time when inclusion and understanding have never been more important. Our international students are core to our mission.”


7/14 UPDATE: ICE reverses directive to revoke international student visas. Read President Folt’s response.


The lawsuit is seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction to stop the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s July 6 directive from being enforced and its policies from being implemented. That directive requires international students to take at least one in-person class to maintain their visa status.

Our country cannot afford to lose the vital diversity of thought and experience international students bring to our universities.

President Carol L. Folt

“By issuing this arbitrary and misguided new directive — without any advance warning — the government is forcing international students to make potentially life-altering choices with no apparent consideration for the burdens it places on the students or on higher education itself,” Folt said. “It also directly contradicts the guidance offered by the government in March which afforded schools broad flexibility to navigate this pandemic.”

Folt noted that after the directive was issued, USC immediately began reaching out to bring together some of the leading research institutions, liberal arts colleges and public universities in the western United States to block it from being enforced. USC also joined a broad coalition of universities in filing an amicus brief strongly supporting the legal challenge separately brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“We simply cannot stay silent when the government is clearly using our international students as leverage to force a wholesale reopening of college campuses in the midst of a global health crisis with no regard for public health guidance,” Folt said. “Please know that the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff is our chief concern, and we will continue to advocate strongly against any government policy that poses a threat.”

Coalition that includes USC expresses support for international students

In a statement, the coalition noted that many international students had remained in the U.S. during the pandemic to ensure their education was not interrupted by returning home and then not being granted a return visa.

“The government’s thoughtless and arbitrary action not only harms these students but also robs institutions of higher education of the autonomy and flexibility to adapt models of instruction to meet the urgent needs posed by a global pandemic,” the coalition said. The 20 participating institutions enroll more than 50,000 international students.

“We are pursuing this case because all international students studying in this country deserve the right to continue their education without risk of deportation,” the coalition said.

The institutions in the coalition are USC, Arizona State University, California Institute of Technology, Chapman University, Claremont McKenna College, Northern Arizona University, Oregon State University, Pitzer College, Pomona College, Santa Clara University, Scripps College, Seattle University, Stanford University, St. Mary’s College of California, University of Arizona, University of Oregon, University of the Pacific, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco and University of Utah.

Read President Folt’s statement to the university community.

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