News Releases

In a bicameral letter, the lawmakers demanded the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) overturn guidance that would prevent new international college and university students taking all online courses from entering the U.S.

Letter comes after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directive barring all international college and university students from entering the country was revised

The arbitrary distinction limits international students’ ability to plan their lives, and limits colleges and universities’ ability to plan for the fall and ensure safe learning environments

NPR: ICE Confirms New Foreign Students Can't Take Online-Only Course Loads In The U.S. – MORE HERE

WASHINGTON DC – Today, U.S Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ed Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA, 7th) joined 75 of their colleagues in the Senate and House in sending a letter to Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chad Wolf calling on him to revise recent guidance that would prohibit new international college and university students with a full-time online course load from entering the U.S.. The letter follows a xenophobic Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directive that would have deported and barred all international students with online-only course loads, which was overturned after a legal challenge and pressure from congressional Democrats.

“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,” the legislators wrote. “There are an estimated 250,000 international students planning to enter the United States for the coming academic year, either as new or returning students. These students and universities need clear answers in order to plan their lives and prepare for their studies for the upcoming fall term.”

The original and subsequent guidance for international students has caused a great deal of harm and confusion for international students and higher education institutions. For international students, there is still no definitive guidance to ensure that the State Department will accept visa applications from students who would have online-only course loads, making it impossible for them to properly plan their next few months. For colleges and universities, many of whom are still finalizing and updating their plans to ensure that students can learn safely this fall, the lack of clear guidance and seemingly arbitrary rules make it difficult for them to develop safe and consistent methods of instruction for all of their students. In the letter, the Senators called on ICE to overturn the guidance blocking new international students, as it limits higher education institutions’ ability to flexibly adapt their instruction and safety protocols during this pandemic.

“With respect to newly enrolled international students, DHS should recognize that colleges and universities are exploring a variety of instruction models, including hybrid in-person and remote instruction as well as innovative attendance schedules, to best serve students’ health and education needs simultaneously. Implementing a blanket, one-size-fits-all policy in which all new international students are banned from entering the United States shuts off avenues of instruction unnecessarily,” the legislators continued.  

The full text of the letter is available below and HERE.

August 13, 2020

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:

We write to request that you immediately revise recent guidance to colleges and universities that would prohibit international students on new F-1 and M-1 visas with a full-time online course load from entering the United States. ICE should not be creating disparate treatment between new and existing students. 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. There are an estimated 250,000 international students planning to enter the United States for the coming academic year, either as new or returning students. These students and universities need clear answers in order to plan their lives and prepare for their studies for the upcoming fall term.

On July 14, 2020, in response to a legal challenge, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agreed to withdraw a July 6 directive that would have barred existing international students from taking exclusively on-line courses at U.S. colleges and universities. However, to date, neither ICE nor the Department of State have published a clear guidance to ensure that that the Department of State accepts visa applications from students whose course of studies would be online, leading to confusion for students who should be eligible to enter into the United States.

ICE subsequently re-issued its Spring 2020 FAQs on July 15, 2020, and then on August 7, 2020, issued revised FAQs that merged guidance into a single document. The August 7 guidance purports to revise some of the FAQs “to reflect the fall 2020 semester,” and to archive and rescind certain FAQs that were “specific to the spring or summer semester.” The guidance states that students in Initial status (i.e. new students) who have not yet arrived in the U.S. should remain in their home countries. In your August 7th response to our previous correspondence, you reemphasized this, stating that “F and M students in new or initial status after March 9, 2020 will not be able to enter the United States to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online.” The August 7, 2020 FAQ also rescinded an important FAQ from the July 15, 2020, and prior versions of the FAQs, which allowed schools to register the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (S) records of initial students already in the United States and to thereafter “follow the guidelines the school provides to all its F and M students related to COVID-19.” Before rescinding that FAQ, ICE changed the wording of the question, making it appear as if it had only been applicable to the spring.

With respect to newly enrolled international students, DHS should recognize that colleges and universities are exploring a variety of instruction models, including hybrid in-person and remote instruction as well as innovative attendance schedules, to best serve students’ health and education needs simultaneously. Implementing a blanket, one-size-fits-all policy in which all new international students are banned from entering the United States shuts off avenues of instruction unnecessarily.

We request that you immediately revise the August 7th FAQ to affirmatively state that, during the course of this pandemic, all international students enrolled in full-time study at a U.S. college or university can enter the United States regardless of their method of instruction or whether they are a new student, and that schools can register the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) records of students in Initial status once the student has been admitted to the United States. 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. At a time of so much uncertainty and instability for higher education, the Trump Administration must cease its interference with colleges and universities trying to plan for the education, health, and safety of all their students.

We look forward to your prompt response as our nation works to respond to this pandemic and afford students the ability to continue their education throughout this difficult time.

Sincerely,