A number of NAFSA letters sent to agency leadership ask the agencies to address immigration-related COVID-19 concerns within four major groupings that offer specific examples:

  1. Protect the immigration status of students, scholars, staff, and faculty at U.S. educational institutions
  2. Provide flexibility on deadlines, courses of study, filing windows, penalty counts, reporting requirements, and filing/adjudication processes
  3. Use a "one government" approach where each Agency and their component bureaus and offices honor each other's COVID-19 policies
  4. Allocate resources to handle standard seasonal surges as well plan for surges that may come post COVID-19

NAFSA's Letters

  • NAFSA Seeks Clarification on National Interest Exceptions. NAFSA joined with the American Council on Education and 23 U.S higher education organizations in a July 20, 2021 letter seeking clarification on the current travel restrictions due to COVID-19 and the blanket national interest exception (NIE) for F-1 and M-1 students. The letter also urges that the blanket NIE be extended to include J-1 students as well as faculty and researchers traveling under other visa categories.

  • NAFSA Meets With Department of State Regarding Consular Operations. On July 12, 2021, Esther Brimmer, DPhil, NAFSA’s executive director and CEO, met with U.S. State Department Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, Edward Ramotowski, to discuss growing concerns regarding limited visa appointment availability and processing delays affecting international students and scholars planning to arrive on U.S. campuses this fall. NAFSA members can read a meeting summary.

  • NAFSA Letter to SEVP on 2021-2022 Academic Year COVID-19 Guidance. On May 6, 2021, NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Dr. Esther Brimmer sent a letter to SEVP Director Rachel Canty, to thank SEVP for its April 26, 2021 COVID-19 guidance for the 2021-2022 academic year, and suggesting "additional clarifications to further help schools and students operate responsibly and responsively during this year of transition," the "overarching recommendation is to provide schools greater flexibility to operate as international, national, state, and local safety considerations allow." Director Canty responded to NAFSA on May 21, 2021. See NAFSA's page for the NAFSA letter and SEVP's response.

  • NAFSA Letter to Secretary Blinken on National Interest Exceptions. On May 5, 2021, NAFSA sent a letter to Department of State Secretary Antony Blinken thanking the agency for its April 26 and April 30 announcements extending eligibility to international students and exchange visitors for national interest exception waivers from the countries currently covered by COVID-19 travel restrictions, but asking, among other things, that DOS remove reference to an August 1, 2021 “condition” in the NIE policy. The letter also asks the agency to implement clear and safe policies to optimize visa processing for international students. NAFSA expressed the following concerns:

    • "that the Department will not be well-positioned to process the large volume of international student and scholar visa applications submitted this summer ahead of the fall semester, leaving many unable to arrive on U.S. campuses on time,"
    • "it is imperative to know what plans the Department is developing to ensure timely, transparent,and efficient processing of an expected large volume of student and scholar visa applications, particularly in high sending countries like China, India, and South Korea, to name a few. This is a critical time on the academic calendar when many incoming students are making their final decision on where they will study in the fall. If students overseas do not have sufficient assurance that they can get a visa in time for the start of the fall semester, they are likely to look elsewhere to study,"
    • "the longer it takes for plans to be shared with the U.S. academic community on what international students and scholars can expect when they apply for visas this summer, the more likely that we will lose these talented individuals to other countries and do further damage to our reputation as the top destination of choice for study and research."
  • NAFSA Responds to U.S. Department of State's Travel Advisory Updates. On April 23, 2021, NAFSA contacted Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Ian G. Brownlee to express disappointment in the U.S. Department of State's announcement that 80 percent of countries would soon be placed at a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory. This change will have a chilling effect on education abroad in what has already been an unprecedented and devastating 16 months for the field.

  • Letter to Secretaries Mayorkas and Blinken Asking for Fall 2021 Guidance. On March 18, 2021, NAFSA joined the American Council on Education (ACE) and 40 other organizations in a letter urging the Departments of State and Homeland Security to take steps to prepare for the Fall 2021 semester, including asking that SEVP issue guidance for the coming fall as soon as possible, and allow students to enter the U.S. for study even if school will be entirely online.

  • NAFSA and Others Ask SEVP to Issue Flexible Guidance for Spring 2021. (December 4, 2020) NAFSA signed on to a multi-association letter led by the American Council on Education (ACE), asking SEVP to issue COVID-19 guidance for the Spring 2021 term "as soon as possible," and to provide for "maximum flexibility."

  • NAFSA Signs on to Letter to DHS and DOS in Support of Hybrid Programs. On August 12, 2020 NAFSA co-signed a letter coordinated by the American Council on Education (ACE) and also co-signed by the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) to urge the Departments of State and Homeland Security to work together to ensure new and returning international students enrolled in hybrid academic programs at U.S. institutions are able to have their visas processed and enter the country.

  • NAFSA Letter to SEVP on Fall 2020 Guidance. On July 10, 2020, Dr. Esther Brimmer, NAFSA Executive Director and CEO, sent a letter to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) asking the agency to takes steps to revise the guidance immediately to once again allow continuing students within the United States to enroll in a full online course of study and to allow schools to maintain SEVIS records in Active status for all continuing students enrolled in online studies outside the United States, among other suggestions.

  • June 12, 2020 NAFSA Letters. NAFSA asked the agencies to issue clear guidance for the Fall that allows standard SEVIS actions for both new and continuing students and exchange visitors, such as SEVIS registration and validation, transfers, changes of level, and recommendations for student benefits like Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training, regardless of the student’s or exchange visitor's location or the modality of instruction the school is using. NAFSA asked the Department of State to to waive the in-person visa interview requirement to the fullest extent allowable under the law and allow U.S. consulates to conduct interviews via video conferencing. NAFSA also asked the agencies continue to coordinate their guidance, and to instruct their respective bureaus and offices to honor their partner agency’s guidance as it is issued.

  • April 8, 2020 NAFSA Letter. NAFSA requests "that the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) work collaboratively during and after the COVID-19 crisis to ensure efficient visa and immigration processing, to include protecting the immigration status of international students, scholars, and exchange visitors at U.S. higher education institutions impacted by COVID-19, and ensuring the smooth entry this fall of returning, as well as newly-arriving, international students and scholars for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year," and "urges DHS, DOS, and other agencies to continue with the development of creative flexibilities."

  • March 16, 2020 NAFSA Letter. NAFSA asked DHS to allow for flexibility in adjudication of benefit requests and status determinations for international students and scholars who are impacted by COVID-19 and the measures institutions of higher education are taking in response to it.

    • On July 8, 2020, DHS responded to NAFSA's March 16, 2020 letter. The letter was dated the day following the publication of SEVP's July 6 and 7 Fall 2020 Guidance and FAQs, but before DHS rescinded that guidance on July 14, 2020 in an agreement with the plaintiffs in the Harvard/M.I.T. case.

For NAFSA letters to Congress related to COVID-19, see the NAFSA COVID-19 Legislation and Policy Resources page.

Protect immigration status
Provide flexibility
Use a "one government" approach
Allocate resources for now and later