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UR joins legal fight to overturn new international student rules

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The president of the University of Rochester announced Friday that the school would file an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to block a new federal directive regarding international students.

The directive, issued Monday by the Trump administration, would strip international students of their visas if their instruction goes entirely online this fall, effectively forcing them to leave the country.

International students make up about a third of the student body at the university, according to the most recent tally by the Institute of International Education. Roughly half of those students hail from China. 

In an email to the UR community, president Sarah Mangelsdorf said the university will work with New York University to develop the legal brief. In doing so, the university would join a growing list of colleges and universities that have filed briefs in opposition to the new policy.

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University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf

"This is obviously a confusing and distressing situation, and we are aggressively pursuing governmental, legal, and educational avenues to challenge these new restrictions,” Mangelsdorf wrote. “The university is joining with NYU to develop an amicus brief in support of the federal lawsuit that Harvard and MIT have brought against ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

“We have expressed our deepest concerns to our Congressional representatives in both the House and Senate and urged them to support efforts to rescind ICE’s guidance.”

The news was not entirely unexpected. University officials, along with representatives of Rochester Institute of Technology, condemned the policy change earlier in the week.

The White House directive has been criticized as an effort to pressure universities to reopen and abandon the cautious approaches that many have announced they would adopt to reduce COVID-19 transmissions.

The practical effect could be a dramatic reduction in international student enrollment in the fall at American universities, where foreign students often pay full tuition.

“We want to state unequivocally that our international students, who contribute so much to the scholarly, social, and cultural environments at the University of Rochester, are essential to our enterprise and they are core members of our past, present, and future,” Mangelsdorf wrote. “And we want to state unequivocally and directly to our international students: you are welcome here.”

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at