International students lawsuit

Sixty-five colleges, including Princeton University, are suing the Department of Homeland Security for imposing stricter immigration standards on international students, the majority of whom are from India and China, saying it will have “drastic effects” on the lives of international students. (representational image/ photo)

Princeton University announced Dec. 21 that it is joining a lawsuit brought about by 65 U.S. colleges and universities who have sued the Department of Homeland Security for imposing harsher immigration standards on international students.

The overwhelming majority of international students are from India and China. An initial draft of new DHS rules which went into effect last August proposed that an international student is out of status if he remains in the U.S. as little as one day after graduation or after finishing his optical practical training (see earlier India-West story here:

The agency later amended its policies, declaring also that the unlawful-presence clock can be backdated to the day on which DHS concludes that the visa holder first fell out-of-status. Students who accrue unlawful presence are barred from returning to the U.S. for up to 10 years, depending on the amount of time they have overstayed their F-1 visas. Bans on returning to the U.S. begin after a student has overstayed more than 180 days.

Doug Rand, former assistant director for entrepreneurship in the Obama White House who helped implement policies that affect foreign students, told India-West last May, after a draft of the proposal was announced: “For generations, America has been the top destination for students from around the world, many of whom go on to contribute their talents to our economy and even become Americans over time.”

“We should be welcoming the best and brightest — if our country loses its luster, we will lose out on this extraordinary competitive advantage,” stated Rand, the co-founder of Boundless, a technology company that helps families navigate the immigration process. Rand said the proposed policy creates “massive uncertainty” for students who have no “nefarious reasons” for overstaying their student visas.

The immigration system is beset with processing delays, noted the lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 23, 2018 in a U.S. District Court in North Carolina. “Thus, the new policy’s use of a backdated unlawful-presence clock will render tens of thousands of F, J, and M visa holders subject to three- and ten-year reentry bars without any opportunity to cure.” The colleges noted that the students were acting in good faith, without intention to overstay their visas.

DHS, however, issued a report last September, stating that more than three out of every 100 students from India overstay their F-1 visas. In 2017, approximately 127,435 students from India graduated and finished their optional practical training, and were expected to return to the home country. Of those, 1,567 stayed for a while but eventually left, while 2,833 remained in the country, accruing unlawful presence, about 3.5 percent. The numbers are consistent with previous years.

But the colleges who are suing contend that DHS’s new harsher rules will have “drastic effects” on the lives of international students.

“It will preclude her from completing her degree program, deprive her of employment opportunities, and exclude her from friends and family living in the United States.”

“It also imposes a financial harm on institutions in terms of lost tuition dollars and local communities in terms of foregone discretionary expenditures,” stated the colleges.

“The American higher education system is the world’s leading destination for international students and scholars,” the colleges and universities noted in an amicus curiae brief. “These foreign students, researchers and professors make critically important contributions to academic communities across the country and they have helped America’s colleges and universities become world leaders in essential fields of research that drive innovation and benefit society,” stated the suit.

“Rules changes such as this make the United States a less welcoming place for international study and have a demonstrable impact on international interest in American higher education. Consequently, the new rule will be detrimental to both our institutions and the larger American economy,” stated colleges and universities in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Guilford College, The New School, Foothill-De Anza Community College District, and Haverford College, among others.

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