SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today asked a federal judge to put an immediate stop to a Trump Administration plan to revoke visas for international students while Washington litigates its case seeking to have the rule permanently vacated. Three state universities and three community colleges (along with the head of the community college board) filed declarations with the office. If the judge does not put the rule on hold, it goes into effect on July 15. This motion follows a lawsuit filed on July 10.

Ferguson filed the motion for a temporary restraining order in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington today. Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez will hear the case. Ferguson is seeking a hearing on Wednesday.

The Trump Administration directive requires every college and university to decide by July 15 whether they will hold classes in-person, remotely or implement a hybrid model with both in-person and remote classes. The rule revokes the student visas for all international students attending colleges and universities holding classes remotely. Visa holders attending colleges and universities implementing a hybrid model are prohibited from attending remotely from their home countries — despite the public health risks of unnecessary travel.

The rule harms nearly every Washington state higher education institution, reduces state revenues and threatens public health and safety. Approximately 27,000 international students attend higher education institutions in Washington state and spend approximately $1 billion in the state each year. Numerous Washington schools submitted declarations in support of Ferguson’s lawsuit and temporary restraining order, telling the court about the numerous impacts the new rule would have on them and their communities for the upcoming school year:

The University of Washington has 8,300 students on F-1 visas from 123 countries and they add about $185 million in revenue to the university. The university showed it has lost $440 million in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Washington State University has 1,869 students on F-1 visas and 681 new international students for the upcoming school year. School officials noted they received 500 emails from students within the first 24 hours of the Trump Administration announcing the new rule.

The director of the state’s community college board noted there are about 13,000 students on F-1 visas in the state’s colleges and they contribute more than $100 million to those schools.

Yakima Valley College’s president told the court that, because Yakima County was experiencing the highest rate of COVID-19 infections per capita in the state, the college shifted to online-only classes on April 28. If the new rule goes into effect, international students would face numerous challenges, ranging from the financial cost of breaking their housing leases early, the risks and expense of travel during a pandemic, the loss of educational opportunities such as internships, and the potential delay of their education while facing long waits for a new visa in the future. For students with families and children, these challenges are exacerbated. Students with families may face particularly painful impacts: “Significant others of our F-1 students will need to make alternative arrangements and many of our students with young children will face difficulties in enrolling students in daycares and schools outside of the country. Some families may be forced to split apart in order to comply.”On July 7, Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli said the purpose of his agency’s directive is to “encourage schools to reopen.”

“Our universities and community colleges are speaking with one voice – this rule will significantly hurt their students, their budgets, and the health of their communities.” Ferguson said. “The Trump Administration is undermining public safety decisions made at the local level and jeopardizing more than a billion dollars in tuition revenue and economic activity in order to pursue a political goal of keeping schools open in the fall. We’re seeking to immediately halt this unlawful action.”

Case background
On July 10, Ferguson filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington asserting the rule is unlawful and harmful to Washington students, universities and community colleges.

According to the Institute of International Education, Washington ranks 11th in the nation for the number of international students who study here. For the 2018–2019 academic year, there were 27,472 international students at Washington’s higher education schools. International students pay full tuition and many Washington colleges and universities rely on their tuition for financial viability. Washington state international students spent an estimated $956 million in tuition and day-to-day spending last year. International students held over 8,000 jobs. Several community colleges in Washington serve especially large numbers of international students and rely heavily on their tuition payments.

The ICE policy change has thrown educational institutions’ planning for fall 2020 into chaos. Ferguson asserts the Trump administration has put these institutions in a difficult dilemma: lose numerous F-1 visa students who bring immense educational and financial benefits to the school or take steps to retain those students through in-person classes but place the broader student body and faculty at risk for exposure. Schools must make this choice by an arbitrarily early deadline of July 15 amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to spread and creates new challenges every day.

ICE’s decision reflects an effort by the federal government to coerce state universities and colleges into reopening in-person classes, which also requires housing students in densely packed residential halls. The ICE policy does not allow for universities to judge whether it is safe or educationally advisable to do so. It effectively forces school reopenings when neither the students nor the faculty have sufficient time to react to or address the additional risks to the health and safety of their communities and when it is entirely unclear whether such openings will be safe by the time colleges and universities resume this fall.

The Trump Administration has acknowledged ICE’s decision is designed to force institutions of higher education to conduct in-person classes despite public health experts’ warnings it is dangerous. The Trump Administration’s rule undermines local health and safety decisions without consideration of local conditions.