In a letter sent Monday, University President Lawrence S. Bacow urged US Citizenship and Immigration Services to “encourage foreign students to return to campus” by permanently raising visa flexibility.
According to a Trump administration regulation, international students seeking F-1 funding were unable to access the United States if their courses were entirely online, scattering Harvard’s first-year international students all over the world.
A backlog of scholars awaiting visas now foreshadows logistical delays as consulates reopen and students plan to return to in-person learning this fall.
Bacow wrote to Tracy L. Renaud, acting director of USCIS, requesting that the Student Exchange Visitor Program be “renewed and extended the existing flexibilities” to enable foreign students to receive visas from attending schools that intend to restrict in-person learning.
“I hope you would consider offering new flexibility for colleges and universities to give international students opportunities to participate in low residency or hybrid education programmes, which would enable us to expand the scope of our programmes to more students,” Bacow wrote.
He also demanded that the USCIS, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, reinstate its “deference policy,” which required evaluators to rely on previous eligibility determinations while evaluating visa petitions.
Also, the letter encourages USCIS to amend work authorization standards to ensure that the required minimum wage represents the wages paid by colleges and universities and encourage students to apply for work authorization sooner. Students must currently apply for and receive permission within 90 days of their start date, which Bacow claims have been complex due to processing delays.
Bacow’s letter was in response to the Biden administration’s call for public comment on strengthening the efficacy and performance of federal immigration procedures.
A request for comment from USCIS was not returned on Wednesday.
Bacow, who has publicly chastised Trump over immigration concerns, wrote that Trump’s executive orders have “barred entry to several, with others beset by processing delays, backlogs, and administrative barriers designed to frustrate access to opportunities in this country.”
“As a result, immigrants and nonimmigrants alike have been cast in a cloud of uncertainty,” he said, “and it has taken a toll in higher education.”
Bacow cited a new study from the Department of State and the Institute of International Education, which found that overall international student enrollment in the United States fell for the first time since 2005 last year.
He wrote, “Our current immigration system does not do nearly enough to promote the legitimate movement of people and ideas, or to appreciate the contributions that immigrants make to the US.”
“The COVID pandemic has taught us that many of our most challenging problems are global—and that the answers lie in long-term international partnerships and research collaborations facilitated by versatile and open immigration policies,” Bacow continued.