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The United States has long been an attractive international student destination. International students are a key source of funding for both private and state universities. At some universities, international students account for a third of the student body at the undergraduate level, while at the graduate level, they represent the majority of students. More than a million international students were issued visas to study in the United States in 2019.

On July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) of the Department of Homeland Security announced modifications in its rules regarding student visas for the semester starting in August 2020 (Fall 2020 semester). The new temporary rules allow international students to stay in the US only if their university is offering courses that require in-person presence. It means that if a student is taking all of their courses online, they will have to leave the country.

This sudden announcement has put unnecessary pressure on both schools and students. Schools who were hitherto unsure about reopening due to COVID, will now be forced to reconsider their decision. However, most schools with sizeable international student presence have already introduced or are on their way to introducing hybrid programs where a part of the course would require students to attend in-person classes. At the time of writing this, MIT and Harvard have started legal action against the US Government contesting the government’s decision. Pro-student statements have also been issued from a lot of universities:

  • New York University (that has called the policy ‘just plain wrong and needlessly rigid’)
  • University of Arizona (that has assured ‘we can accommodate requirements that international students have in-person participation’)
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • Suffolk University
  • University of Michigan
  • Harvard University (that has called it a ‘deeply misguided order’ and has filed pleading in the US District Court in Boston seeking a temporary restraining order)
  • MIT (that along with Harvard has filed the pleading)
  • Yale University (that has written a letter to DHS strongly urging it to adopt a more flexible approach to visas for international students for Fall 2020)
  • Northeastern University (that ‘believe(s) the hybrid-flexible model we have developed will insulate our international students)
  • Carnegie Mellon (that has called the measure ‘unacceptably abrupt, inflexible’ and believes that its hybrid model will benefit students starting classes on August 31)
  • Princeton University (that is already open to incoming undergraduate students)

As we are flooded with questions from concerned students, we are addressing common queries below:

I am thinking of going to the US next year. How will I be impacted?

This decision is temporary and impacts only those international students for the Fall 2020 semester whose universities are conducting the entire semester online. So, it does not affect your US study plans for next year.

I will be starting my classes in Fall 2020. Will I be affected by the new policy?

As most universities would not turn away international students, the Fall semester will be a hybrid model i.e. some part of your course will be conducted on-campus and in-person. So, you will not be affected by the new policy. Universities have already started communicating this to their admitted students. If you haven’t heard from your university yet, you should expect a communication within a week.

Can I begin my program remotely if I don’t have visa?

A visa is not required to start your program online. But you will need a visa when you go to your university next semester.

Will there be any financial accommodations for incoming students?

Yes. Some universities like Princeton have announced 10 percent discount in tuition for students who are on-campus or are studying remotely. But the decision will vary from university to university.

Is it safe to go to US this Fall ’20 or should I wait?

We recommend that if the university invites you to its hybrid program, you should go. It is highly likely that there will be a roll back on this decision later this year. However, we should wait until final procedures and responsibilities are published by the DHS in the Federal Register.

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