Vanderbilt, peer institutions oppose new visa rules for international students who study remotely

Vanderbilt University has joined more than 50 of the nation’s top universities and colleges to stop a new federal directive that would force international students to leave the United States if their institution offers remote-only instruction in the fall.

The institutions filed an amicus brief today in support of a lawsuit brought by Harvard and MIT against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy. The suit asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to enjoin the rules from going into effect, citing the value of international diversity to America’s colleges and universities, and asserting that new directive violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

“These policies must be rescinded because they will have potentially disastrous consequences,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. “International students contribute greatly to the innovation and knowledge creation happening at America’s great research universities. Now more than ever, during a global pandemic with impacts for years to come, we need to invest in our shared human potential through open collaboration and research.”

In the brief, the signatory institutions outline the challenges the July 6 directive poses for international students enrolled in online-only programs, but who remain physically within the United States.

They also write that, “Consequently, schools that have chosen online-only programs for the fall, because of concern for the safety of students, faculty, and staff, now must choose between opening their campuses regardless of the public health risks, or forcing their international students to leave the country— despite those students having signed leases, enrolled children in school, and otherwise justifiably organized their lives around remaining in the United States during the next school year.”

Additionally, the signatory institutions say the new guidance places a burden on universities, causing them to have to, in a period of weeks, revisit decisions made after months of planning based on the government’s previous guidance.

The institutions note the amount of work needed to revamp course offerings and housing arrangements, and revise submitted governmental paperwork, while simultaneously ensuring they are in compliance with public health orders, and supporting students who are “understandably anxious about their immigration status, health, and education.”

“Universities must be able to fulfill their educational missions, preparing all of our students to participate in a global workforce and economy. This new directive severely inhibits our ability to do this. We not only lose the diverse perspectives and insights international students bring to our campuses outside of the classroom or the lab, which benefit all students, but we also lose their irreplaceable contributions to America’s academic enterprise,” Susan R. Wente, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs said.

As Vanderbilt prepares for the fall semester amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, supporting its students’ health and well-being is a top priority for the university.

For updates regarding Vanderbilt’s plans, visit the Return to Campus website.