Society / Justice and Law

Court Victory for International Students

Written by Dean Forbes

July 14, 2020

A Japanese exchange student studying for finals

Image credit: Yosef Chaim Kalinko

Legal action, including a lawsuit by a coalition of West Coast universities, including Seattle U, convinced the federal government to rescind an order that would have prohibited international students from remaining in status or obtaining a visa to study in the U.S. if they are receiving remote-only instruction this fall.

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on July 14 rescinded its recent guidance that would have prohibited international students from remaining in status or obtaining a visa to study in the U.S. if they are receiving remote-only instruction this fall. The action means the waiver issued last spring to provide international students and institutions needed support and flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic will remain in effect.

“Today’s announcement is the result of the collective action and unified voice of higher education institutions from across the country and the strong support of many members of Congress, including our own congressional delegation,” said President Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J., in a message to the campus community. “I want to reiterate to our international students that you are greatly valued members of our campus community who make many positive contributions, not only to our campus and educational mission but also to the cultural, social and economic vitality of the region and nation. I look forward to welcoming you back this fall.”

What led to the decision by DHS to reverse its order was a flurry of legal challenges by universities across the country. One was a coalition of 20 western U.S. universities, including Seattle University, that filed a lawsuit July 13 in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., seeking an injunction of the order. Seattle U, with the unanimous approval of the Board of Trustees, was the only Washington state institution of higher education in the coalition. 

The university also signed an amicus brief in another lawsuit against DHS brought by Harvard University and MIT last week urging DHS to withdraw its decision.

Seattle U has approximately 600 international students expected for the fall quarter, representing about eight percent of the student body.

“Seattle University is fully committed to supporting our international students in every way possible during this pandemic so that they may continue their education,” said Sundborg when DHS announced the order on July 6. “The DHS guidance was deeply misguided and a senseless action that would have been harmful to the educational aspirations of international students and limited the ability of colleges and universities to adapt models of instruction to meet the urgent needs posed by the global pandemic."

Kabanda Obed, ’21, a Ugandan student who is in the Doctorate in Educational and Organizational Learning and Leadership program in the College of Education, said “A forced return to my home country as a result of implementation of the ICE rules would jeopardize my goal of completing my doctoral program.”

While Seattle University’s current plans are to reopen this fall with a mix of in-person, hybrid and virtual classes—with as much in-person instruction as safely possible—it must also prepare for scenarios if circumstances are such that it must move to remote-only instruction.