Letter to DHS asks for updated guidance for new international students

In July, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcement confirmed that newly enrolled international students studying on fully online courses in the US will “likely not be able to obtain an F-1 or M-1 visa”,  days after Harvard University warned its international first-year students would not be able to arrive on campus due to federal visa restrictions.

“The Trump administration must cease its interference with colleges and universities”

The letter dated August 13 includes senator Kamala D. Harris – running mate of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden – among its signatories, and argues that ICE “should not be creating disparate treatment between new and existing students”.

“Many institutions of higher education will begin classes in the coming weeks, the majority of whom are planning predominantly online instruction, and there is still ongoing disruption stemming from your agency’s guidance for students located abroad,” it explained.

“There are an estimated 250,000 international students planning to enter the United States for the coming academic year, either as new or returning students.

“These students and universities need clear answers in order to plan their lives and prepare for their studies for the upcoming fall term,” the letter continued.

The Democratic signatories pointed out that ICE had agreed to withdraw a July 6 directive that would have barred existing international students from taking exclusively on-line courses at Us colleges and universities.

“However, to date, neither ICE nor the Department of State have published a clear guidance to ensure that that the Department of State accepts visa applications from students whose course of studies would be online, leading to confusion for students who should be eligible to enter into the United States,” they wrote.

“With respect to newly enrolled international students, DHS should recognise that colleges and universities are exploring a variety of instruction models… [as] implementing a blanket, one-size-fits-all policy in which all new international students are banned from entering the United States shuts off avenues of instruction unnecessarily.”

The letter requests that the department immediately revise the guidance to state that during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, “all international students enrolled in full-time study at a US college or university can enter the United States regardless of their method of instruction or whether they are a new student”.

Additionally, ICE should ensure reporting flexibility to accommodate the rapidly shifting enrollment status that is normal during this time of year, but exacerbated during a global pandemic; international education experts have requested similar relief,” it continues.

“At a time of so much uncertainty and instability for higher education, the Trump administration must cease its interference with colleges and universities trying to plan for the education, health, and safety of all their students.”

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