Associations, Lawmakers Call on Administration to Clarify Policy on Allowing International Students Into the Country
August 17, 2020

ACE President Ted Mitchell and the presidents of three other major higher education associations sent a letter last week to the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State and U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Department Homeland Security (DHS) asking for clarification that international students can safely travel to begin the academic term this fall.

The presidents urged the agencies to work together to safeguard the ability of new international students enrolled in hybrid academic programs at U.S. institutions to have their visas processed and enter the country, as outlined in a recent FAQ document from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Along with Mitchell, the letter was signed by Matt Owens, interim president of the Association of American Universities; Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities; and Esther D. Brimmer, executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. 

“Given the great uncertainty facing our international students and our institutions this fall, it is important to make sure that existing and initial students can safely travel with certainty to begin the academic term,” they wrote.

ICE announced late last month that new international students who plan to enroll at a college or university that has adopted an all-online instruction plan for the fall will be barred from entering the country. Although the agency carved out an exception for students in hybrid programs—those that have both an online and in-person component—there have been reports of students being denied entry to the United States while traveling on valid visas for a hybrid program. In addition, U.S. consulates abroad have just started to reopen and process applications for new student visas.

The controversy began in early July, when ICE unveiled a directive that prohibited all international students from returning to or remaining in the United States if their college or university went all-online. After Harvard University and MIT filed a lawsuit challenging the policy—which would have put hundreds of thousands of students already in the United States at risk of having their F-1 visas revoked—the Trump administration rescinded it.

On a related note, members of Congress are calling on DHS to allow new international students into the country, regardless of the status of their program of study.

On Aug. 13, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) led 75 of their colleagues in the House and Senate in a letter to Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf calling on him to revise the ICE guidance, writing that “ICE should not be creating disparate treatment between new and existing students.”

“With respect to newly enrolled international students, DHS should recognize that colleges and universities are exploring a variety of instruction models, including hybrid in-person and remote instruction as well as innovative attendance schedules, to best serve students’ health and education needs simultaneously,” the lawmakers said. “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.

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