Harvard’s president, Lawrence S. Bacow, called the rule from Immigration and Customs Enforcement cruel and reckless and said in a statement that it appeared to have been designed to pressure universities to hold in-person classes “without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors and others.”
The Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey, said she would also challenge the rules in court. “Massachusetts is home to thousands of international students who should not fear deportation or be forced to put their health and safety at risk in order to advance their education,” she said in a statement.
Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, defended the order in an interview Tuesday on CNN, saying that the administration was providing more flexibility for international students than in the past, when they could only take one online course to qualify for visas. Now they can take more, as long as at least some of their instruction is in person.
“If they’re not going to be a student or they’re going to be 100 percent online, then they don’t have a basis to be here,” Mr. Cuccinelli said, adding, “They should go home, and then they can return when the school opens.”
To maintain their status, many international students raced this week to enroll in in-person classes, even if they were not connected to their majors, and students at nearly a dozen universities started an online spreadsheet so that American students could try to swap in-person course spots with their foreign classmates.
“There’s slim pickings for classes, and they all filled up so fast once the news came out that we’re pretty much left with no option,” said Rhea Joshi, an Indian citizen and rising senior at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is seeking a swap.
Loay Alem, 19, an engineering student from Saudi Arabia, said he had put down a $1,000 security deposit on an apartment for the fall, enrolled in several online courses and paid tuition at U.C.L.A., which had about 5,800 international students last academic year. “I was all set to start sophomore year,” he said.