August, September, October 2021

Highlighting the top issues reported through NAFSA IssueNet. Prepared by Edyta Mika-Klimczak & Jennifer Glass, Members of the International Student and Scholar Regulatory Practice (ISS RP) Committee.

Top Issues

Visa and Entry Issues

  • Many embassies and consulate offices all over the world continue to have a significant backlog in issuing F and J non-immigrant visas. The difficulties this backlog creates are exacerbated for students forced to apply as TCN applicants due to the closure of nonimmigrant visa processing in their home countries.

  • Visa troubles for M-1 applicants and F-1 Language Training or Pathway applicants have been reported.

  • Proclamation 10043 (suspending entry of certain Chinese students and researchers connected to the PRC "Military-Civil Fusion Strategy") continues to be a hurdle for Chinese nationals, both in terms of visa and entry denials.

USCIS

  • Difficulty getting assistance, or accurate information, when reaching out to the USCIS Contact Center.

  • Mailing issues continue to be reported, from difficulty submitting address updates, to EADs being sent to completely wrong addresses, and to address updates submitted not being processed (EADs still sent to original addresses).

  • Significant delays also continue to be reported for withdrawal requests (taking over a month) and I-539s (for change of status, reinstatement, and/or extension requests taking well over a year).

  • Discrepancies between USCIS instructions/adjudications/Contact Center advice in terms of when an OPT recommendation must be made for a student to be eligible when filing online (recommendation must come before student applies, even if the online account gives the student the option to add the I-20 later).

  • A number of reports also indicate incorrect dates being printed on EADs.

Strength in Reporting

  • On August 10, 2021, 23 U.S. senators called on the Secretary of State to address the issue of visa delays. The request included expediting the visa process and prioritizing review of the international student and exchange visitor applications, providing alternatives in the interviewing process, and flexibility on starting dates for students related to the delays. Read more on the NAFSA website.

  • On September 14, 2021, the Department of State temporarily expanded consular officers' authority to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying to renew a non-immigrant visa classification (not only F, M and J categories) if within the 48 months of the prior visa expiration. The standard rule allows for renewing visas in the same classification only within a 12-month period following the prior visa's expiration. The temporary expansion of this authority lasts until December 31, 2021. Read more on the NAFSA website.

  • In September 2021, the CIS Ombudsman's Office published a tip sheet for more effective communication with the Contact Center. Read more.

  • Presidential Proclamation 10294 of October 25, 2021, Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic, effective November 8, 2021, revoked the four prior geographic travel ban restrictions that had limited entry from 33 specific countries, and replaced them with a global requirement that "noncitizens who are nonimmigrants" traveling to the United States by air from any part of the world establish that they are fully vaccinated, with some limited exceptions. A separate CDC order also continues to require all air travelers (regardless of citizenship) to show results of a negative coronavirus test performed on a specimen taken three days (if fully vaccinated) or one day (if not fully vaccinated and entering under an exception) preceding their flight's departure from a foreign country traveling to the United States. Read more on the NAFSA web site.

  • Proclamation 10294 of October 25, 2021 applies only to air travel. However, on October 12, 2021, regarding entry through land POEs at the Canadian and Mexican borders, DHS announced that "following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health experts, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will amend Title 19 regulations to allow non-essential travelers who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and have appropriate documentation to enter the United States via land and ferry ports of entry (POEs) across the U.S. border." Individuals engaged in essential travel (such as "Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions" and "Individuals traveling to work in the United States") will not be required to be vaccinated at this time, but starting in January 2022, all inbound foreign national travelers crossing U.S. land POEs or ferry terminals – whether for essential or non-essential reasons – must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination. Read more on the NAFSA website.

  • On October 14, NAFSA joined the American Council on Education (ACE) and 36 other U.S. higher education associations in a letter asking the Biden administration to allow international students, scholars and researchers from countries where the U.S. and World Health Organization (WHO)- approved vaccines are not widely available, to enter and be vaccinated in the United States upon arrival. Read more.

  • On November 1, 2021, SEVP communicated new guidance that permits DSOs to electronically sign and transmit the Form I-20 to initial and continuing nonimmigrant students and their dependents. This guidance is permanent, and now exists outside the scope of COVID accomodations. SEVP said it engaged with other government agencies (Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and U.S. Social Security Administration) to ensure continued acceptance of electronically signed Forms I-20. Read more on the NAFSA website.

KC ISSS Resource Section

  1. IssueNet
  2. NAFSA Coronavirus Critical Resources
  3. NAFSA Adviser's Manual 360 News Feed
  4. International Scholar Advising Network
  5. International Student Advising Network