Stakeholders have reacted in shock to the new guidelines that would mandate that international students transfer to an institution offering in-person instruction or risk “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings”.

“We will pursue this case vigorously”

The guidelines were released mere hours after Harvard announced it would house no more than 40% of undergraduates and would hold all college classes online in the fall.

The universities said they relied on DHS policy from March that allowed international students in the US to remain and to allow new students to arrive in time for the next academic year.

In court papers filed in US District Court in Boston, Harvard and MIT said that some students cannot attend classes online in their home countries as civil unrest makes internet access highly inaccessible at best.

Some students face “conditions of social unrest, economic instability, or other threats to their continued safety” if forced to return home, the universities argued.

“Others might be drafted in their home countries, might face threats or abuse based on their sexual orientation, or might not be able to access mental health treatments.”

In an email to Harvard affiliates, university president, Lawrence S. Bacow, wrote that “the order came down without notice—its cruelty surpassed only by its recklessness”.

“We believe that the ICE order is bad public policy, and we believe that it is illegal,” he continued.

“We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students—and international students at institutions across the country—can continue their studies without the threat of deportation.”

According to a letter sent to the MIT community from university president, L. Rafael Reif, the announcement disrupts international students’ lives and jeopardises their academic and research pursuits.

“ICE is unable to offer the most basic answers about how its policy will be interpreted or implemented,” Reif continued.

“And the guidance comes after many US colleges and universities either released or are readying their final decisions for the fall – decisions designed to advance their educational mission and protect the health and safety of their communities.”

He said that international students have many questions about their visas, their health, their families and their ability to continue working toward an MIT degree.

“Unspoken, but unmistakable, is one more question: Am I welcome?” he wrote.

“At MIT, the answer, unequivocally, is yes.”

The Harvard Crimson reported that DHS and ICE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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