Johns Hopkins files federal lawsuit in support of international students

July 10, 2020

Dear Johns Hopkins Community:

In recent weeks, I have watched with increasing concern the steady march of decisions and policies put forward by this administration that unfairly target our international students and their families. As you know, the latest came on Monday when this administration released revised guidance regarding the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) that substantially impacts our international students’ ability to obtain or maintain visas allowing them in the United States for online as well as hybrid online/in-person educational programs.

Today Johns Hopkins has filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to challenge this guidance. As we stated unequivocally earlier this week, this guidance puts our students and our institution in an impossible position and upends months of deliberate and thoughtful planning guided by the world’s leading experts in public health in the midst of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Under the federal government’s new rule, our students are being forced to choose between preserving their own health and well-being and pursuing their educational aims. Our university is being required to dismiss sound science and public health advice, go against our core values of equity and fairness, and undermine our essential role as a place of education and discovery enhanced by the international students and scholars who are an integral part of our community.

Our suit alleges violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, due process, and the constitutional protections for universities’ academic freedom, and we will pursue it to the fullest extent. We are not alone in taking this step. As you have likely seen, our peers, including MIT and Harvard, have filed similar suits, and we anticipate that others will follow from various state attorneys general as well as other institutions of higher education. Our case presents issues not addressed in the other litigation and could help increase the likelihood of a national ban on enforcing this new rule. We expect these cases to move very quickly, and we anticipate arguments on the requests for a preliminary injunction as soon as next week.

This country was built on the boundless spirit of innovation and discovery contributed by generations of immigrants and foreign-born scholars. The genius of American higher education lies in the extent to which it has fostered this spirit, reached out to the world, and welcomed international students and scholars to our institutions. As the president of a university with a large, diverse, and global community—and as an immigrant and the son of immigrants—I know firsthand the tremendous contributions of these talented individuals to their adopted homes.

We understand that these events create a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety for our international students. As we take this legal action, our international students and scholars will have Johns Hopkins’ continued and unwavering support. We can assure you that the federal government’s action has not changed our commitments to providing the best possible educational experience and research opportunities for our students while also safeguarding their health and safety. Nor will it alter our judgment should the conditions of the pandemic worsen and force us to revert to fully online education this fall. We will keep you apprised of this matter in regular communications and counsel. Students may continue to seek assistance from the Office of International Services. Support resources for students are listed at wellness.jhu.edu and provided through the mySupport program for faculty and staff.

Thank you to our entire community for their support of our students and colleagues at a moment that was already fraught with uncertainty and strain. Johns Hopkins is an exceptional place fueled by the brilliance and resilience of its extraordinary and diverse community.

With warmest regards and gratitude,

Ron