National Interest Exception added for China, India, Iran, Brazil, South Africa and Fall 2021 guidance related to coursework

*Updated 5/6/21 to include India *

Dear students and scholars,

We are happy to announce two recent developments from the U.S. government related to visa status maintenance and travel. You will probably begin to see reports of these announcements in the media, but we want to let you know that clarification on certain issues is still needed. Please read carefully and watch for further updates from ISSS.

National Interest Exception (NIE) for academic travel extended to China, India, Iran, Brazil, South Africa

The Department of State announced an expansion of the national interest exception for travel to the United States for students and exchange visitors from certain geographic areas that are subject to entry restrictions:

  • The national interest exception is already active for academic travelers coming from Schengen Area countries of Europe, UK, and Ireland. This announcement appears to extend the NIE for students and exchange visitors located in China, India, Iran, Brazil and South Africa, who will begin their programs after August 1, 2021 (look to the program start date on your I-20 or DS-2019 to confirm this).
  • For F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors who need a visa, your ability to travel will still be subject to availability of visa appointments and getting the visa approved in time for travel. The National Interest Exception is printed on the visa. Please consult with your local consulate on special visa procedures for academic travelers.
  • For F-1 visa holders who already have a visa,  no written approval from the embassy is needed, but you still must meet other eligibility requirements. See important information for continuing students with valid visas, below.
  • For J-1 exchange visitor travelers who already have a valid visa, you must email your nearest embassy/consulate to request the NIE. It is our understanding (based on current NIE practices in Europe) that the NIE granted by the embassy/consulate is only valid for 30 days once issued, so you cannot request this too early before your travel date. Please check your nearest U.S. embassy webpage for details and updates.
  • Remember, F-1 and J-1 travelers may not enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the program start date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019.

The following is still unclear:

  1. For continuing students located in China, India, Iran, Brazil and South Africa: How does this August 1, 2021 program start requirement apply to you, if your I-20 or DS-2019 lists a program start date before August 1?
  2. While we expect academic categories of exchange visitors to include all student categories of J-1, as well as research scholar, short term scholar, and professor categories, the announcement does not specify which categories qualify for the NIE.
  3. Will F-1 students on OPT be eligible to travel under the national interest exception?

We will provide more detailed information to international students and visiting scholars on these questions if/when available.

Department of Homeland Security extends pandemic-related guidance through Fall 2021/Spring 2022. 

On Monday, the government announced that they will extend the temporary guidance that has allowed schools to adapt to pandemic-related emergency operations through the upcoming academic year.

  • It appears that international students in the U.S. may take a full-time course load that is a mix of in-person, hybrid and online courses and maintain F-1 visa status, even if their school has returned to primarily in-person learning.
  • Students who were in the U.S. as of March 9, 2020, and have maintained active visa status since then, may enroll in a fully online or hybrid course of study and maintain F-1 visa status in the U.S. Because the University is offering fewer online courses than last year, we do not expect this to situation to occur very often, but this flexibility may help students who are graduating, and who need only one or two courses to graduate, when those courses are only offered through distance learning.
  • No students will be issued a new I-20 to take an entirely distance-learning course load.

We will provide more details about what this guidance extension means for students in the coming weeks. We are still awaiting guidance from Department of State regarding Fall 2021 rules for J-1 exchange visitors and maintaining status in the upcoming year.

Note to students in countries where U.S. visa operations are still impacted by COVID-19: We are thinking of you during this difficult time and wishing you and your family health and safety. ISSS is watching the worldwide visa situations closely and we are trying to process your documents as quickly as possible to give you the best chance for return/arrival to campus. Please let us know what more we can do to support you.

Please email if you have additional questions and thank you for your patience as we update our resources to reflect these new details. Please note that this message represents our preliminary interpretation, in consultation with our professional resources, regarding the two announcements. If these interpretations change based on updated guidance, we will notify students as soon as we can.

Thank you,