Biden Administration Outlines Policies to Support International Education; Travel to the U.S. Begins to Ease for International Students
July 26, 2021

​Amid reports of an uptick in international student visa approvals for the fall, the departments of Education and State today released a joint statement affirming the value of international education to U.S. diplomacy, national security, and economic prosperity.

The statement reflects what colleges and universities and higher education associations have stressed in recent years as international student enrollment declined during the Trump administration and suffered further blows during the pandemic: Government policies and practices must ensure that the United States remains the destination of choice for international students and scholars.

“The U.S. higher education system has had to demonstrate remarkable flexibility and resourcefulness in addressing the unique challenges of the pandemic, especially for international students in the United States and American students who were abroad during the outbreak,” it reads in part. “As the health crisis recedes, we need to restore and further strengthen the capacity of our higher education institutions, including their critical, ongoing role in the provision of international education and care of international students.”

The statement was accompanied by an “action plan” that, while short on detail, pledged a “coordinated national approach to international education.” The plan emphasizes creating a welcoming environment and increased opportunities for international students and scholars while at the same time protecting national security and intellectual property.  

The administration’s announcement comes as The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Friday that student visa issuance is returning to pre-pandemic levels as U.S. consulates continue clearing the backlog of applications. According to the Chronicle’s analysis, almost 117,000 F-1 student visas were approved in May and June, or 93 percent of the number of student visas issued in the same two months in 2019.

Reporter Karin Fischer cautioned that July data, which will not be available until August, “could paint a different picture,” while the emergence of the more contagious COVID-19 Delta variant “has tempered optimism about any return to normal travel and campus operations.”

ACE, Higher Education Groups Seek Clarification on COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

Meanwhile, the higher education community continues to advocate for clear information to help international students make decisions on their plans for the fall.  

ACE and 24 other associations sent a letter to the departments of State and Homeland Security Tuesday with questions about the national interest exemption (NIE) for countries under current COVID-19 travel restrictions, including China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the European Schengen area, the UK and Ireland.

The rule applies for any F-1 or M-1 visa holder if their academic program begins Aug. 1 or later, an ambiguous  date for continuing students who were outside the U.S. under COVID travel restrictions and who seek to return to this country, as well as those on optional practical training looking to return here.

The associations called for further clarification around the exemptions on several points, including whether it is sufficient for a student to show at entry to the United States to demonstrate the start date of their program to qualify for NIE and whether Customs and Border Protection officers are prepared to recognize students under the initiative for entry after Aug. 1.