May 3, 2021
The Biden administration has started to address issues around student visas for international students and scholars wishing to come to the United States this fall, with two welcome developments last week.
First, the Student Exchange Visitor Program has extended the distance learning guidance for F-1 and M-1 students who are actively enrolled in U.S. institutions as of March 9, 2020, and took courses online while outside the country. Current students on valid visas who were completing their studies online due to COVID-19 and in their home countries will be allowed to reenter the United States to continue their studies.
In addition, new international students will be allowed to enter the country as long as their program of study has some component of in-person learning instruction, so hybrid instruction will be permitted. The guidance will remain in effect for the 2021-22 academic year, giving campuses some certainty as you and your international students continue planning for the upcoming semester.
The Department of State also has issued guidance for students from countries currently under travel restrictions and banned from entry into the United States that will allow them to enter under a “national interest exemption” starting Aug. 1.
As Reuters reported, this will have a particular impact on Chinese students, who made up 35 percent of international students in 2019-20. State had already made this shift in March for European students, lifting restrictions put in place due to the pandemic.
ACE and other associations flagged both issues in a March 2021 letter to the departments of State and Homeland Security asking for flexibilities for international students in the fall 2021 semester. The groups believe these initial moves will begin the process of making the United States once again a welcoming environment for our foreign visitors, as well as supporting the U.S. economy while the long recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Meanwhile, the White House announced Friday it will bar most non-U.S. citizens from India from entering the United States, given the dire COVID-19 situation in that country. Those restrictions, which begin on May 4, are on the advice of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Students will considered for a national interest exemption if their programs begin Aug. 1 or later, according to the State Department. Those students who are applying for new visas who are found to be otherwise qualified for F and M visas will be automatically considered for the exemption.