NAICU Washington Update

DHS Rescinds Guidance on International Student Visas

July 17, 2020

In an important victory for institutions of higher education and the international students they serve, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreed to rescind recent guidance that would have prohibited international students from remaining in the United States if their classes are only offered online at any point during the coming academic year.
The government’s decision to revoke the controversial guidance came during a hearing in a lawsuit that was filed last week by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). During the hearing, the parties agreed that DHS would rescind the policy and reinstate its previous guidance waiving requirements for international students attending institutions that moved to an online format in response to the pandemic.
Although the latest guidance is no longer in effect, several ambiguities remain. Before rescinding the guidance, DHS had announced its intention to issue a temporary final rule to implement the now-revoked policy. It’s currently unclear whether or not DHS plans to pursue such an approach in the future, although several congressional members have introduced amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act to block DHS from doing so.
Meanwhile, shortly after the court hearing, DHS updated its guidance for Student and Exchange Visitors Program stakeholders. According to the guidance, new international students, also known as initial students, currently in the United States who have reported to their school should follow regular procedures. DHS, however, advises that if initial students have not arrived in the United States, they should remain in their home country. It is unclear if or how this recommendation will be enforced.
The Harvard/MIT lawsuit was the first of many legal challenges to emerge in the week that followed DHS’s announcement. Colleges and universities around the country mobilized to strongly oppose the guidance, with some institutions filing statements or lawsuits of their own or supporting legal challenges filed by their state Attorneys General.

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