NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal government. The Boston schools are trying to help international students who may be forced to leave the country in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ferhat Zabun and Harry Blain are City College of New York graduate students earning their Ph.Ds in political science and like all international students they’re in danger of being sent home to their countries or deported if their school ends up going online due to the pandemic. Blain would be sent back to Britain.

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“If the universities are going online in the fall, [international students] have to leave the United States or transfer to an institution where classes are being held in person,” Blain told CBS2’s Cindy Hsu on Wednesday.


For years, the rule has been that international students must take in-person classes to be eligible for a visa. But, that rule was suspended in March when COVID-19 hit. This week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement decided to go back to the requirement for attending classes in person.

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Most schools, along with CUNY, have not decided if classes will be online. If they do virtual, Zabun would have to return to Turkey.

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“It was totally shocking for us, yeah,” Zabun said.

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There are more than 1 million international students throughout the U.S. and they’re joining forces through virtual meetings and petitions. One petition was created three days ago and already has been signed more than 200,000 times.

Blain said returning to England wouldn’t be dangerous, but that’s not the case for many international students.

“Others will be going back to places were the COVID-19 crisis is equal or worse to what we have in the United States, places where they might face political persecution,” said Blain. “So, yeah, understandably, they’re terrified.”

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And time is running out. Many schools were scheduled to start next month, but now everyone’s in limbo.