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Key Developments to Watch

180 colleges joined a lawsuit.

81 higher-ed associations signed a letter in protest.

Nearly half of the members of Congress called on the Department of Homeland Security to backtrack.

new Trump administration policy that would bar international students from coming to or remaining in the U.S. if their classes were all online has drawn widespread condemnation. And it has galvanized support for international students in a way that is, frankly, rare to see — even a coalition of campus student ministries expressed disapproval of the policy as going against “tenets of our faith to not mistreat the foreigner but to love these neighbors as ourselves.” Not since the travel ban in the first days of the Trump administration have I seen such broad consensus on an issue facing international students, both within higher ed and beyond it.

In Forbes, Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, wrote:

“By compelling universities and others to imagine an America with no or few international students, administration officials have created sympathy for the students and generated renewed reflection about universities and America’s place in the world.”

Of course, in this era of polarization, can such goodwill be sustained? I recognize, too, that glass-half-full sentiments are of limited comfort to the many of you who have been working around the clock to reassure anxious students, reissue thousands of I-20s, and overhaul class schedules to ensure compliance with a policy — dubbed the #studentban — that landed out of the blue.

This past week has been a whirlwind of developments. You can read my in-depth coverage in the Chronicle. I’ll be posting up-to-the-minute news on social media, so look there for the latest. Meanwhile, let me flag a few things to watch going forward:

Legal challenges to the policy are moving fast, but uncertainty will remain.A federal judge in Boston said on Friday that she would fast-track a lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT to stop the policy. A hearing has been set for Tuesday afternoon, with a ruling as early as Wednesday. The rush is necessary because Wednesday is also the deadline for colleges that plan to be online-only to submit updated paperwork to the government.

There is reason to be hopeful that the colleges could get an injunction temporarily halting the policy. “My gut on it is that the big-ticket item here is going to be a likelihood of success on the merits,” Judge Allison D. Burroughs said Friday.

The argument that colleges are making — that the administration didn’t adequately consider the impact of the policy and that it failed to follow proper rulemaking processes — is one that has succeeded in halting other Trump administration actionsmost notably DACA. I laid out the legal arguments a few weeks ago. My focus then was on optional practical training, but they are equally relevant here.

It’s not clear, however, if a ruling would be applied nationwide, or just to MIT, Harvard, and other nearby colleges. Universities in other regions of the country are filing separate lawsuits, and at least two state attorneys general, in California and Washington, are also suing. And it seems like the Trump administration has an appetite for a fight, both in the courts and out. The government could appeal an injunction. Just a short time after the hearing, President Trump took to Twitter:

But with an election looming, colleges may just need to run out the clock.Chris Marsicano, a professor of higher education at Davidson, presciently made this point to me last week, before the MIT-Harvard lawsuit was filed: “Time is on the side of college and universities — and international students.”

There also could be a second front in this fight: Congress. At last count, four in 10 lawmakers have signed onto one of several letters to calling for repeal of the policy, and I hear a Republican-authored one is being circulated. Congress has leverage and could include language in a budget bill or a coronavirus-relief measure later this summer blocking the policy’s enforcement. This is probably less likely than judicial relief, given partisan divides and the short legislative calendar, but it’s possible.

Finally, it’s worth reiterating: So far, this has been policymaking by press release. Last Monday’s policy change was released in a broadcast message and followed up by an FAQ. The two left many unanswered questions about enactment and were sometimes contradictory. The administration has said it will still draft a rule laying out new student-visa guidelines for fall. NAFSA has a few ideas about what that guidance should be.

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Visa Processing To Resume

The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has quietly announced that some embassies and consulates around the globe will begin reinstating routine visa services, starting this Wednesday:

Visa processing will be phased in, and it’s unclear in which countries services will resume. Visa applicants should check individual consulates for more information, the department said in a tweet. And while this is a promising development for international students hoping to secure visas in time for the fall semester, covid-related entry restrictions to the U.S. remain in place, most notably for travelers from China, the top source of international students on American campuses.

The Case of the Missing EADs

In recent weeks, I’ve been hearing from students whose work authorization documents have been delayed or gone missing. In some cases, students were notified that they were approved for optional practical training but didn’t receive their forms, which are known as EAD cards.

Now there’s an answer. It turns out that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Homeland Security agency that processes such paperwork, has been printing only a small portion of its workload, the Washington Post reports. That’s because, in part, the agency is funded almost entirely by fees on visas, work permits, and naturalization documents, whose issuance has slowed since the coronavirus outbreak. To save money, USCIS has cut outside contracts, including with printing companies.

The EAD issue is likely to be a taste of what’s to come, however. Unless it receives emergency funding, USCIS could furlough nearly three-quarters of its workers in the coming weeks. Brace for big slowdowns for OPT ahead.

More on International Students & Race

Did last week’s coffee hour on international students and race and racial identity leave you wanting to learn more? (If you missed it, you can listen here.) ACPA–College Student Educators International has two upcoming webinars on Racism & Racialized Identities: The Experience of International Students of Color in the United States. The first, on the experience of Black international students, is next Tuesday, and the second, focusing on Asian international students, is on July 28.

Around the Globe

The University of Arkansas is considering whether to remove a statue of Sen. J. William Fulbright, the godfather of the Fulbright exchange program, and take his name off the arts and sciences college. Black students have pushed for the change because of the late senator’s record on civil rights.

Xu Zhangrun, a law professor and outspoken critic of the Chinese government, was detained, then released after a week.

Scholars and students who have been critical of China may fear returning to Hong Kong because of the new security law imposed by Beijing.

More than 22,000 students, teachers, and academics were injured or killed in attacks on education during armed conflict or insecurity over the past five years, according to a new report.

Australia could relax rules around post-graduation work for international students affected by covid, the country’s education minister said.

British universities are trying out a pilot project for teaching students in China that would require all course materials to comply with Chinese Internet restrictions.

The FBI director is again sounding the alarm about American colleges’ vulnerability to Chinese influence and espionage.

A professor at Ohio State has been charged with illegally using U.S. government grant funds and hiding his ties to China.

Tuition and fees for international students could rise sharply at French universities.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shut down a university founded by one of his political adversaries.

Higher-education leaders from around the world have signed a joint statement recommitting to international academic mobility in the wake of the pandemic.

And finally…

If you haven’t seen it, this flowchart, created by Yiyan Zhang, a Chinese grad student at Boston University, is a pretty accurate visual depiction of the chaos and bad options that last Monday’s policy announcement’s created in the lives of hundreds of thousands of international students.

Speaking of chaos, I hope you all were able to find a moment or two of calm to recharge before what is sure to be a long week ahead.

’Til next week — Karin

A freelance journalist and expert on global issues in higher ed, Karin has been writing for more than a decade about the changing relationship between American colleges and the world.