US Colleges move court against immigration policy that affects

A group of educational institutions in the US, including The New School, a New York-based private research university with one of the highest proportion of international students, has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over a recent policy change that adversely impacts these students. Under this policy, international students, for no fault of theirs, could find themselves barred from entering the Us for three to 10 years.

The change announced by the US citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that came into force from August 9 means international students automatically begin to accrue “unlawful presence” in US, the day after they violate their “student status” even if their granted tenure of stay has not expired. TOI had analysed the impact of this policy change in its edition of August 11.

Earlier, the clock to calculate the number of days of unlawful presence began to tick from the day a government official or immigration judge adjudicated the student as being “out of status”.

Referring to the earlier policy, the petition (technically referred to as complaint) filed with a US district court states that it was objective. If required, individuals could leave the US within 180 days and avoid imposition of a three or 10 year re-entry bar.

“The new policy’s use of a backdated unlawful-presence clock will render tens of thousands of F, J am M visa holders subject to three- and 10 year re-entry bars without any opportunity to cure, ” the petition says. It also states that the new policy financially harms US educational institutions in terms of lost tuition dollars.

Under the new policy, the unlawful presence clock is turned back to the date on which the international student first fell” out of status”. The repercussions are extreme, especially for a student who may have unknowingly violated his/her status earlier. If this is discovered many years later, the student could find himself/herself barred from entering the US for several years. A student’s studies could be disrupted or if he or she intends to work in the US post-studies, this opportunity is virtually lost.

An individual who accrues more than 180 days of unlawful presence before departing from the US can be barred from re-entry for three years. An individual unlawfully present in the US for more than a year is barred for 10 years.

Even a simple failure to update the designated school officer (DSO) of a change in address or a clerical error by the DSO in entering information into the SEVIS system (database for foreign students) such as additional hours of on-site campus work beyond those permissible can result in a student being regarded as “out of status” (see table).

After the Chinese, Indians constitute a significant portion of international students in the US. During the year ended September 30, 2017, nearly 47,300 F-1 visas were allotted to Indian students. International student data from Open Doors Report (2017) shows there are 1.9 lakh Indian students in the US.

“This lawsuit is designed to safeguard the rights of international students in the US. They contribute substantially to the fabric of college campuse… This new policy, which upsets more than two decades of consistent immigration practice, is unlawful,” Paul Hughes, a Washington-based partner at Mayer Brown LLP and co-counsel to the lawsuit, told TOI.

Owing to the policy change, many students have had to disrupt their studies to avoid the re-entry bar. Haveford College, a liberl arts college in Pennsylvania, had to ask two international students to leave the campus based on potential status violation. The petition says; “This upset the crucial student-university relationship and has irreparably disrupted these students’ educational plans and Haverford has lost tuition as a result.” More than one in 10 students of the 1300 students in this college hold an F-1 visa.

The New School, which has 3,600 students on F-1 visa, an F-1 alumni of 900 students undergoing optional practical training and nearly 100 students on J visa, provides similar case studies. One of its students took a semester-long leave out of fear of accruing unlawful presence under the new policy. Other educational institutions party to the lawsuit include Guilford College and Foothill-De Anza Community College District.