The withdrawal of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) July 6 guidance—that international students attending institutions with online-only programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic would no longer be eligible for student visas—paves the way for the continued legal presence of international students currently in the U.S. However, late Friday, July 24, DHS announced that new or initial international students currently overseas whose programs are entirely online would be unlikely to obtain visas and would not be able to maintain student visa status.
The July 6 policy was perceived as an attempt by the administration to force institutions to reopen campuses and was met by unified opposition by institutions, industry and members of Congress. Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the federal government in federal district court in Boston within hours of the original announcement, and they were followed by several other institutions and state attorneys general in other districts. AASCU joined other higher education groups in submitting amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs, and AASCU President Mildred García issued a statement vehemently opposing the policy.
On July 14, the judge presiding over the lawsuit against DHS announced that the government had agreed to withdraw its July 6 announcement and FAQ document published on July 7, both of which were promptly removed from the DHS website. García issued a statement urging the administration to extend additional flexibility to student visa applicants.
DHS issued a new FAQ on July 15, instructing international students who have not yet started their programs to stay home. There have been reports of U.S. consulates overseas requiring otherwise qualified applicants overseas to provide evidence of in-person or hybrid programs before obtaining a visa. Following the FAQ, Harvard University announced that it would be unable to host new international students this term due to visa restrictions.
The July 24 DHS announcement formalizes Harvard’s interpretation of the likely administration policy. AASCU and other higher education groups have submitted a letter seeking clarification to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf.