March 27, 2020

Dear Secretary Pompeo and Acting Secretary Wolf:

On behalf of the New York University (NYU) community, I am writing in the hopes that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State will offer clear, unambiguous legal guidance for the over 1 million international students currently studying at U.S. colleges and universities. At NYU alone we have over 20,000 international students that contribute immensely not only to the intellectual energy of our scholarly community but to the state and local economy, as well.

The ability to attract the best and brightest international students to our universities—in New York and across the country—is essential to maintaining a strong economy and leading the world in science and technology innovation. International student graduates that have remained in the U.S. have contributed to practically every sector of American society, bringing us discoveries, innovation, artistic creativity, and economic vibrancy. Their presence adds enormously to campus life. Moreover, in addition to immeasurable intellectual contributions made by these students, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, international students throughout New York contribute $5 billion to the state economy and support over 58,000 jobs—a very substantial economic contribution.

In every way, our international students are integral members of our campus communities. So, while NYU and the higher education community sincerely appreciate the recent DHS and State guidance regarding visa policy and processes for our international students and scholars, specifically the guidance regarding J-1 visas, as well as Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance regarding the transition to online courses (March 13) and further clarification on the five-month rule and online courses (March 23), some worries persist.

We are concerned that the March 9th SEVP Broadcast Message -Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Potential Procedural Adaptations for F and M nonimmigrant students -contains a disclaimer saying that the action is NOT “a rule or final action” and lacks the force of law. Greater certainty here would be immensely reassuring to our students.

In addition, following the recent Presidential Proclamation limiting travel from many foreign countries, there are additional questions about which we are seeking clarification from DHS and the Department of State because the answers are so vital to ensuring that international students can continue to pursue their NYU education. These include:

  • Can students maintain their F-1 status if an institution of higher education has tocompletely close for a period of time during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak? Is thereany flexibility to extend their immigration status in this situation?
  • If a student in F-1 status is graduating in spring 2020, but their home country is under a Level Two or Level Three Travel Health Notice, is there flexibility to extend their status if the student is unable to return to their home country? Would Optional Practical Training (OPT) be considered?
  • Similarly,if a student in F-1 status is reaching the end of their OPT period, but their home country is under a Level Two or Level Three Travel Health Notice, is there flexibility to extend immigration status and work authorization if the student is unable to return to their home country?
  • We expect many F-1 international students may seek to extend their stay by applying for and completing OPT. Is DHS prepared for an influx of applications for work authorization? Have the issues, which arose in summer 2019 that extended the processing time to over five months in some cases, been resolved?
  • How does the Department of State plan to process F-1, M-1, and J-1 visa applications if U.S. consular offices are closed for an extended period in affected countries?
Again, we sincerely appreciate the preliminary guidance provided by the Department of State and DHS. However, during these uncertain times, we respectfully urge DHS and State Department to work to ensure efficient visa and immigration processing and continue to work with the higher education community to ensure clarity for international students seeking to study in the U.S.
The ability of U.S. universities to recruit and retain the most talented students from around the globe is a significant factor that has made ouruniversities the envy of the world. And, in turn, has been a leading driver of American innovation, economic strength, and robust job creation, as well as one of our most effective ways to convey our national values around the world. For all the foregoing reasons, we look forward to continuing to work with you on these important issues.
Andrew Hamilton signature

Andrew Hamilton