international student visas
US politicians call for the reversal of the Trump-led administration order that bars #intlstudents from staying in the US for taking 100% #onlineclasses. Source: Pool/Getty Images/AFP

US lawmakers have sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security acting secretary Chad Wolf calling for the reversal of a controversial guidance that would bar new international students from getting a visa this fall.

Last month, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) agency said in a guidance that “nonimmigrant students in new or initial status after March 9 will not be able to enter the US to enrol in a US school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100% online.” This means foreign students who have been accepted to a US university after March 9 this year are unlikely to obtain an F-1 or M-1 visa.

The letter read: “ICE should not be creating disparate treatment between new and existing students,” read the letter … 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.”

Many risk being denied international student visas

The letter adds that there are an estimated 250,000 international students who are planning to enter the US for the coming academic year, either as new or returning students, who would need clear answers “to plan their lives and prepare for their studies for the upcoming fall term”. 

The letter said, to date, neither ICE  nor the Department of State has published clear guidance to ensure that that the Department of State accepts visa applications from students whose course of studies would be online, confusing students over who should be eligible to enter the US.

Currently, many universities in the US are exploring a variety of instruction models, including hybrid in-person and remote instruction. The signatories said the blanket, one-size-fits-all policy in which all new international students are banned from entering the US shuts off avenues of instruction unnecessarily.

The letter requests the DHS to state that, during the course of this pandemic, that all international students enrolled in full-time study at a US college or university can enter the country regardless of their method of instruction or whether they are a new student. It also added that schools can register the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) recors of students in Initial status once the student has been admitted to the US. 

“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 said. Some of the signatories include former Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala D. Harris.

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