Associations Urge Biden Administration to Consider Policies and Practices to Help International Students, Dreamers
February 03, 2021

​One of the cornerstones of the Biden-Harris campaign was to restore the United States’ global standing in the world and prioritize reforming the nation’s immigration system. ACE and other higher education organizations are advocating for specific policies that can help move both goals forward quickly.

Policies advanced beginning in 2017 by the Trump administration chilled international student enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities, while over the past year, COVID-19 exacerbated the problem. Some Trump policies exploited the pandemic to discourage international students from coming to or remaining in the United States, such as the directive issued last summer—which was eventually rescinded—that said international students could not legally stay in the country if they were taking all their classes online.

International students have an enormous economic impact on the U.S. economy, but a recent study from NAFSA: Association of International Educators found that the overall economic impact generated by international students had declined by $1.8 billion during the 2019-20 academic year, to $38.7 billion from $40.5 billion in the prior year.

Among the higher education community’s suggestions to begin reversing this phenomenon:

Optional Practical Training Work Authorizations

Along with 38 other higher education organizations, ACE sent a letter last week to then-acting Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary David Pekoske urging the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to provide flexibility to Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization applicants due to processing delays caused by the pandemic.

OPT is temporary employment work authorization that is directly related to an F-1 visa student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization, or an additional 24 months for work in a STEM field related to their major field of study.  

Among other requests, the associations asked USCIS to grant conditional approval for I-765 OPT applicants that have seen delays in their processing; grant conditional work authorization extensions for STEM OPT applicants; drop penalties for OPT applicants that stem from a sudden address change for the USCIS lockbox; extend the time frame to apply for OPT from 90 days to 6 months before an employment start date, and more. These provisions would help prevent graduates and students from missing course and employment start dates and potentially falling out of status.

In other OPT news, while the Trump administration had proposed a new Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) office to oversee employment compliance in the OPT programs, last week the Biden administration issued a rescission noting that they did not believe the office was needed at this time and SEVP will “continue to ensure transparency into OPT data and compliance via our existing communications.”

Also, a welcome development last week in the Washington, DC, District Court, where Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that DHS did not overstep its authority in the expansion of the program for STEM students. More on that decision from Inside Higher Ed.

Establishing Connections With the New Secretaries of State and Homeland Security

Among the newly confirmed agency heads with responsibilities that affect international students and scholars are Secretary of State Antony Blinken and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, confirmed just yesterday.

ACE and 47 other higher education groups sent a letter to Blinken Jan. 27 to suggest how his department could help address the Trump administration’s actions that undermined international education.

Among the actions that could be taken immediately: processing visa applications and work authorizations more quickly and efficiently and allowing flexibility for consular officers in interpreting an international student’s intent provision when adjudicating their visa application.

In a letter to Mayorkas this morning, the organizations requested DHS to withdraw the proposed regulations that would limit a fixed duration of admission for international students; repeal and withdraw the interim final rules that make H-1B visas harder to obtain; clarify that the OPT program for international students will remain in place; restore the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Committee; and take steps to ensure the timely and efficient processing of visas and work authorizations.

Ensuring DACA Recipients, International Students Are Eligible for COVID-19 Relief

Looking forward to the next round of COVID-19 emergency funding, ACE and 54 other associations sent a letter to acting Department of Education (ED) Secretary Phil Rosenfelt last week requesting that the department issue new guidance to permit the use of emergency relief funds for all students, regardless of their citizenship status.

Last month, ED issued a set of FAQs to provide some guidance regarding the distribution to students of COVID-19 relief funds that Congress approved in December. These guidelines make more students eligible to receive assistance than was the case under the CARES Act passed in March, but do not make it clear that all students, including Dreamers and international students, can be funded.

One of the first orders Biden signed on inauguration day would "preserve and fortify" protections for young immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. It also proposed comprehensive legislation that would strengthen and improve the immigration system, including expanding the DACA program and making it permanent while also providing a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The Trump administration sought unsuccessfully to end DACA, although that effort was thwarted by a series of court decisions culminating in last year’s ruling by the Supreme Court.

Read ACE President Ted Mitchell’s statement expressing deep appreciation for this order here, which also encourages Congress to once and for all codify DACA into law. (See more about DACA and Dreamers at​

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Taking place virtually Feb. 12, scholars, campus leaders and practitioners, and students discuss a new ACE report, Toward Greater Inclusion and Success: A New Compact for International Students

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NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool​

The Remember the Dreamers campaign is working to focus Congress on finding a legislative solution for Dreamers and DACA recipients. Working together, the higher education community plays a vital role in both advocating for and assisting these young people, many of whom are students on our campuses.