NAICU Washington Update

Amendment on International Student Advances, But Visa Hurdles Remain

July 24, 2020

The House of Representatives has approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue visas to international students attending U.S. institutions of higher education exclusively offering remote instruction in the coming academic year. 

Even if the amendment is enacted, however, international students continue to face hurdles in entering the U.S. due to closed consulates and borders, travel bans, and confusion about whether new students will be issued visas.

Earlier this month, DHS issued 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 agency subsequently withdrew the controversial guidance in response to litigation and reinstated its previous guidance, waiving requirements for international students attending institutions that moved to an online format in response to the pandemic. Inclusion of the amendment in the annual must-pass defense bill is aimed at preventing DHS from reimposing restrictions on international student visas.

Meanwhile, confusion remains about the status of new international students. In updated guidance for Student and Exchange Visitors Program stakeholders issued last week, DHS stated that 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. Although there are reports that some embassies continue to issue visas to such students, at least two higher education institutions announced this week that it would not serve new international students this fall due to the apparent federal prohibition. 

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