Attorney General Ford Files Lawsuit to Halt Trump Administration’s New Visa Rule for International Students

July 14, 2020

New Rule is a Dramatic and Illegal Reversal from Previous Guidance; Imposes Significant Harms on Students, Schools and Economy

Carson City, NV – Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford and 17 attorneys general filed a lawsuit to halt a new federal rule that threatens to bar hundreds of thousands of international students from studying in the U.S.      

The coalition’s complaint against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) challenges what the attorneys general call the federal government’s “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.” AG Ford is suing to prevent the entire rule from going into effect.  

In Nevada, it is anticipated that thousands of international students would be affected by this rule. The Nevada System of Higher Education opposes the new federal rule due to the potential adverse effects on local students and colleges, and recognizes “the valuable cultural and intellectual contributions the more than 2,000 international students make to Nevada’s eight public higher education institutions.”

“In the middle of an unprecedented pandemic, the Trump Administration shows no concern for the health and safety of our students,” said AG Ford. “By pressuring colleges and universities to provide in-person instruction, they’re putting the lives of our youth, instructors and all higher education staff at risk. As your attorney general, I believe the job of my office is justice, and fighting the Trump Administration’s attacks on our students is no exception.”

The lawsuit challenges an abrupt policy change by ICE to reverse guidance issued on March 13, 2020 that recognized the COVID-19 public health emergency, provided flexibility for schools, and allowed international students with F-1 and M-1 visas to take classes online for the duration of the emergency. On July 6th, ICE announced that international students can no longer live in the U.S. and take all of their classes online during the pandemic. This announcement upends months of careful planning by colleges and universities to limit in-person instruction in favor of remote learning and adapt their coursework for the fall semester, and leaves thousands of students with no other choice but to leave the country.

ICE further demanded that educational institutions advise the federal government by July 15th whether they intend to offer only remote courses in the fall semester, and by August 4th to certify for each of the institutions’ international students that the student’s upcoming coursework this fall will be in-person or a “hybrid” of in-person and online learning in order to maintain their visa status. This demand comes not only amidst an ongoing nationwide emergency, but also at a time when many faculty, staff and students are not on campus and may not even be in the country. Students may not have registered for their classes for the fall, and schools and individual teaching staff members may not yet have determined whether their classes will be held remotely, in-person, or a combination of the two.

The lawsuit details the substantial harms that the new rule places on schools and students. It also alleges that the federal government’s actions are arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion because they reversed previous guidance without explanation, input or rationale, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

The attorneys general say the new rule and abrupt reversal of the previous guidance threatens their states in the following ways:


  • Fails to consider the health and safety of students, faculty and staff; 

  • Fails to consider the tremendous costs and administrative burden they would impose on schools to readjust plans and certify students;  

  • Fails to consider that, for many international students, remote learning in the countries where they come from is not possible;

  • Imposes significant financial harm to schools, as international students pay hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition, housing, dining and other fees;

  • Imposes harm to schools’ academic, extracurricular and cultural communities, as international students contribute invaluable perspectives and diverse skillsets; and

  • Forces colleges and universities to offer in-person classes amid a pandemic or lose significant numbers of international students who will either have to leave the country, transfer or disenroll from the school.


The lawsuit also alleges the new rule imposes significant economic harm by precluding thousands of international students from coming to and residing in the U.S., and finding employment in fields such as science, technology, biotechnology, healthcare, business and finance, and education, and contributing to the overall economy.

In addition to Nevada, attorneys general from the following states are participating in the lawsuit: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.