This is a brief International Center update regarding visa and immigration developments affecting the Fall 2021 international student enrollment and arrival outlook.
Fall 2021 Federal Guidance on Course Modalities and International Student Enrollment Requirements
As of the date of this memorandum, the Department of Homeland Security has not yet issued updated guidance pertaining to course modality and enrollment requirements for international students on F-1 student visas. Since March 2020, the Department has generally allowed international students to maintain lawful immigration status even if they were taking remote / on-line courses in excess of the traditional regulatory limitation of one on-line class per full-time course load. This flexibility was provided as a temporary measure to allow institutions to implement emergency instructional plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We do not yet know if the Biden Administration intends to maintain current COVID-19 accommodations or will require institutions to revert back to traditional restrictions on on-line enrollments for international students. Various organizations, including higher education professional associations, have been calling upon the Administration to issue updated guidance as quickly as possible to all institutions to plan for international student enrollment for the Fall 2021 term. We will notify the Tufts community once concrete information becomes available.
Visa and Travel Environment
As we head into late spring and summer 2021, the US visa and international travel environment continues to offer a mixed picture, with improved visa services and travel conditions in certain regions and continued shutdowns in others. As of March 2021, the US is still maintaining COVID-19 entry bans for persons physically present in China, Iran, Brazil, the Schengen Area of Western Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and South Africa (however, F-1 students arriving from the Schengen Area and the UK / Ireland continue to be eligible to enter the US under a general national interest exception to the COVID-19 ban). While there are rumored reports that the Administration intends to relax or remove certain of these bans by May, contingent upon the success of vaccination programs and other factors, these are not yet confirmed.
Despite increasing optimism for robust campus re-openings by Fall 2021, arrival of international students from certain regions - in particular, mainland China - is likely to remain extremely challenging through the summer and potentially the remainder of the year. US visa operations in China continue to operate, for the most part, on an emergency-only or limited service basis, and there is no announced timetable for a resumption of normal or near-normal visa operations. For this reason, Fall 2021 arrival of students who are currently in China may continue to prove difficult. Many Chinese students are reportedly seeking visa appointments in third countries, but this is unlikely to offer an effective large-scale solution given the numbers of potential visa applicants from China.
For Further Information
Schools and departments concerned about Fall 2021 international student arrival and enrollment requirements are welcome to contact Andrew Shiotani, Director of the International Center, at Andrew.Shiotani@tufts.edu. The International Center continues to monitor developments closely and will communicate updates and developments as they become available.
Andrew K. Shiotani
Director, Tufts International Center