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Tech companies say ICE's new restrictions on foreign student visas could devastate the economy.

Photo: Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images
Tech giants join fight against ICE restrictions on foreign students
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Tech giants join fight against ICE restrictions on foreign students

Nineteen tech companies and associations are backing a lawsuit to overturn a recent ICE directive that would send foreign students home in the fall if their classes go entirely online.

A number of top tech companies say the Trump administration's new directive to strip foreign students of their visas could crush the tech industry's workforce.

In an amicus brief filed Monday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Salesforce, Microsoft and more, sided with Harvard and MIT in their lawsuit against the U.S. government. The suit pertains to a July 6 directive from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would send foreign students home if their college classes go entirely online due to COVID-19. In the suit, Harvard and MIT, which both plan to hold classes online in the fall, argue that ICE failed to consider the potentially devastating impacts of that rule.

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The amicus brief is backed by 19 tech associations and individual companies, and largely argues that the ICE directive should be overturned because of the harm it could do to the U.S. economy, driving nearly half of all international students out of the country.

The companies wrote that they would be "harmed substantially" if the directive takes effect. ICE argues that the directive is an effort to enforce existing law forbidding international students from taking all of their courses online.

"Without international students, American educational institutions face a sudden loss of critical mass — jeopardizing their ability to maintain their standards of excellence; produce research that helps keep U.S. businesses on the cutting edge of innovation; and provide the training that makes American students a strong talent pool for their future employers," they wrote.

International students make up the majority of students in many science, technology, engineering and math programs across the country, hailing from countries including India, Iran and China, among other nations. And the tech industry relies heavily on those students to build up their workforces, first bringing them into the fold through internships and work programs and then hiring them after they've graduated.

"Dropbox wouldn't exist without immigrants," a spokesperson for Dropbox, one of the companies that joined the brief, told Protocol. "The students impacted by the administration's order make significant contributions to our society, and the effect of the order will hurt U.S. competitiveness. We'll keep fighting for immigration reform because it makes our country stronger and more diverse."

According to a study from the The Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, ICE's directive could force hundreds of thousands of international students to return to their home countries, making it substantially more difficult for them to live or work in the U.S. again.

The brief also points to the economic consequences of turning away so much burgeoning talent. One study from the Association of International Educators concluded that international students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2018-2019 academic year alone, the brief notes.

The lawsuit from Harvard and MIT seeks to block or slow the implementation of the directive because of the chaos it would spur within higher education. The tech companies are seeking to prove that the ripple effects would extend far beyond universities and colleges.

The directive would affect the Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training programs, which allow companies to employ international students during or after their time in college. These programs are particularly vital for tech companies, because the U.S. has a shortage of domestic students focused on STEM, according to the brief.

The plaintiffs are arguing that ICE violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it failed to assess the impacts of the directive on the business community — the same argument that resulted in the Supreme Court voting in favor of maintaining the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, last month.

The judge is expected to rule on the future of the ICE directive by Wednesday.

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