The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are being sued by several colleges over changes to administrative policies changes related to foreign students. In August this year, USCIS changed the method by which USCIS officers calculated unlawful presence accrued by students (J-1, F-1, and M-1). This left many students who had experienced a temporary lapse in status vulnerable to unlawful presence accrual. The plaintiffs claim that the new policy unfairly penalizes students “acting in good faith” with re-entry bans up to ten years.
After August 9thof this year, students on J-1, F-1, and M-1 visas became vulnerable for unlawful presence, an immigration status that if held for more than 180 days, results in a three year ban from the United States. The policy change made students accrue unlawful presence beginning:
- On the day they no longer pursue a course of study or the authorized activity indicated by their visa, or the day after they engage in an unauthorized activity;
- The day after completing the course of study or program, including any authorized practical training plus any “authorized grace period;”
- The day after their I-94 expires, if the F, J, or M nonimmigrant was admitted for a certain period; or
- The day after either an immigration judge or Board of Immigration Appeals, orders them to be excluded, deported, or removed, regardless if the decision is appealed.
USCIS claims the changes were meant to hold students accountable for violating the terms of their visas. However, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit find the policy change to be unfair to students accused of status violations.
The colleges serving as the complainants, Guilford College, Guilford College International Club, The New School, Foothill-De Anza Community College District, and Haverford College claim that the policy change affects both their students and the overall financial health of the higher education institutions. Currently in the District Court of Middle North Carolina, the lawsuit awaits response from DHS representatives. A representative for Haverford College, stated in an interview that the policy “irreparably disrupted [the] students’ educational plans, and Haverford has lost tuition as a result.” The plaintiffs aim to return unlawful presence accrual regulations to those predating the August 9thchange.