MIT, Harvard sue U.S. DHS, ICE over modified international student visa guidelines

The guidelines would require international students to transfer ‘to a school with in-person instruction’ or ‘face immigration consequences’ such as ‘removal proceedings’

MIT and Harvard sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the District Court of Massachusetts Wednesday morning, President L. Rafael Reif wrote in an email to the MIT community.

The lawsuit comes after ICE modified its guidelines Monday, stating that international students with F-1 visas “attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain” in the U.S.

For schools adopting hybrid models with a mixture of online and in-person classes, the guidelines require that international students with F-1 visas are “not taking an entirely online course load.”

MIT and Harvard filed the lawsuit to “prevent ICE and DHS from enforcing the new guidance and to declare it unlawful,” Reif wrote.

According to the guidelines, international students must transfer “to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status” or “face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings” from the U.S.

The lawsuit states that “ICE’s action leaves hundreds of thousands of international students with no educational options within the United States.”

Reif wrote that ICE’s “announcement disrupts our international students’ lives and jeopardizes their academic and research pursuits,” adding that the guidelines came after many universities already announced their Fall 2020 operating plans.

The guidelines would force universities into the “untenable situation of either moving forward with… their curricula fully or largely online in the fall of 2020” or attempting, with short notice, “to provide in-person education despite” this option’s “grave risk to public health and safety,” according to the lawsuit.

Reif wrote that in addition to international student concerns about visas, health, family, and “working toward an MIT degree,” there is an additional “[u]nspoken, but unmistakable” question of whether they are welcome. “At MIT, the answer, unequivocally, is yes,” Reif wrote, citing that “welcoming the world’s brightest, most talented,” and “motivated” students is an “essential American strength.”

MIT will continue to post updates of the situation on the International Students Office website. Individuals with questions should email