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Caltech Joins in Lawsuit Challenging Order to Revoke Foreign Student Visas

Caltech and 19 other research institutions, liberal arts colleges, and public universities in the West filed suit to block the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from enforcing and implementing a July 6 order that revokes visas for international students whose studies will be entirely online in the fall. This filing follows separate action taken by the Institute last week to file an amicus brief, jointly with peers, in support of a lawsuit brought by Harvard and MIT against the same July 6 order.

In a statement on Monday, the coalition of institutions in the lawsuit called the order "reckless and arbitrary," and noted that it would not only harm international students but also rob "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's lawsuit, filed on July 13 in the United States District Court in Oregon, asks for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would block the implementation of the new Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) rule requiring international students' programs to provide in-person course components to maintain their visa status. The institutions also ask the court to enter judgment vacating and setting aside the July 6 order, which would restore the previous visa rules that had been understood to be in effect for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Together, the institutions behind the lawsuit represent more than 50,000 international students; Caltech's community alone includes more than 700 international undergraduate and graduate students, who account for nearly one-third of the Institute's student body.

"Caltech actively opposes implementation of this rule and will continue to advocate on behalf of our international students to provide them with certainty and clarity," says Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum. "Seminal achievements in science and engineering, and the ability of institutions like Caltech to respond to society's most critical challenges, depend on the contributions of ambitious and original scholars from around the world.

"If this rule is to stand, it will have a longstanding and detrimental effect on science and innovation in the United States, calling into question whether our American institutions can really be considered reliable destinations of choice that bring together the most creative and ambitious thinkers."

The institutions assert that the July 6 order is arbitrary and capricious and violates the Administrative Procedures Act in that the order is not the product of reasoned decision making. The complaint alleges that the proffered reason for the order is both insufficient and pretextual and that the true motivation for the order was to coerce schools to reopen. The institutions also allege that ICE failed to consider the various harms that will arise out of the July 6 order, including direct harm to F-1 students residing in the United States as well as students residing abroad. The complaint goes on to assert that schools will now need to redirect resources in order to provide safe and enriching educational experiences for the international students who will be impacted by this order. Furthermore, the July 6 order is argued to be contrary to previous guidance that the government issued in March giving institutions flexibility to support international students remotely during the pandemic.

"The new rule does not give schools enough time to find ways to protect their international students from having their lives radically transformed by this new agency action," the complaint stated.

In addition to filing this lawsuit, Caltech joined with 58 public and private American universities in filing an amicus brief on July 12 in support of a complaint filed last week by Harvard and MIT in federal court in Massachusetts, seeking a preliminary injunction against the implementation and enforcement of the July 6 order.

Caltech's own plans for the fall, Rosenbaum and Provost David A. Tirrell said in a message to the community on Friday, July 10, "will allow for both online and in-person instruction," and will be structured so that "students have access to the courses that will allow them to remain enrolled."

In addition to Caltech, the other universities who joined in filing the lawsuit are: University of Southern California, University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Arizona State University, Chapman University, Claremont McKenna College, Northern Arizona 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 the Pacific, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco, and University of Utah.

Shayna Chabner
Chief Communications Officer, Caltech