News on Immigration Changes

Important Travel Updates

 

Entry Restrictions for foreign national travelers

The Biden administration will reinstate the orders to restrict entry of travelers who were in Brazil, UK, Ireland and Schengen Area countries of Europe within 14 days before arriving to U.S., and add South Africa to the list of countries from which travel will be restricted.

Official orders to this effect have not yet been published, and it is still unclear whether students and exchange visitors who will travel from any of these regions will qualify for national interest exceptions for academic related travel. ISSS will update you as we learn more.

 Update: The proclamation was published and can be read here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/25/proclamation-on-the-suspension-of-entry-as-immigrants-and-non-immigrants-of-certain-additional-persons-who-pose-a-risk-of-transmitting-coronavirus-disease/ 

Also, Department of State have confirmed informally that the National Interest Exception that allowed F-1 students to travel from Europe, UK and Ireland automatically, and visiting scholars with J-1 visa by written approval, will remain in effect. The Department of State website lists up to date information, here.

Testing and Arrival Requirements

Starting tomorrow, January 26, COVID-19 testing will be required to board all international flights to the U.S. More information about this requirement, including an FAQ, can be found on the CDC website here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/testing-international-air-travelers.html

The CDC has also updated their federal (U.S.) guidelines for returning to the U.S. from international travel: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/after-travel-precautions.html

Remember, there are still state arrival requirements and also University arrival requirements (for students who will enage in on-campus activity) that may differ from the U.S. federal arrival requirements.

 

 

For more information, contact: ISSS at international@uconn.edu

Proclamation Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry

On January 20, 2021 President Biden revoked prior executive orders and proclamations that were imposed by President Trump, which had banned visa processing for travelers and immigrants coming from a number of primarily Muslim, then African, countries. The full proclamation rescinding these orders can be read here. The new proclamation also orders a review of visa applications currently pending that were affected by the prior orders, and applications that were previously denied on the basis of the prior orders.

While the executive orders imposed under Trump did not, in the end, directly affect most student visa processing, they created fear and uncertainty for our international students and sent an unwelcoming, xenophobic message to the world. They also prevented our students and exchange visitors from seeing family members whose travel plans were impacted by the orders. We are elated that these orders have been rescinded, and happy to step into 2021 on a more positive note.

Please note that the orders revoked in this Proclamation do not include those orders implemented after COVID-19, that prevent foreign nationals from entering the U.S. after traveling from certain specified countries (presently Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland and UK, and Schengen Area countries of Europe).

For more information, contact: ISSS at international@uconn.edu

Proclamation Terminating Restriction of Entry

 

On January 18, 2021 President Trump issued a proclamation that terminates the current restriction of entry to the U.S., of foreign nationals who were present in Brazil, Ireland, UK and Schengen Area countries of Europe prior to arrival, effective January 26, 2021. Read the proclamation here. This coincides with the day that prior COVID-19 testing will be required by airlines for all inbound international travel to the United States.

However, it is unclear at this time if the new Biden administration will allow the termination of this entry restriction to be implemented. ISSS strongly advises all students who are planning upcoming travel to the U.S. to continue to be mindful of updates to travel/entry restrictions, as the new administration could have a different public health agenda and recommendations related to travel, than the prior administration. ISSS will update students and exchange visitors with information related to the termination of the entry restriction for travelers from Brazil, Ireland, UK and Schengen Area of Europe, as it is confirmed.

For more information, contact: ISSS at international@uconn.edu

USCIS Receipt Notice Delays (OPT and other applications)

USCIS Receipt Notice Delays

Many students are reporting delays in receiving a receipt notice after submitting their I-765 to USCIS for the OPT application. If you recently filed an application with USCIS and are experiencing a delay in receiving your receipt notice or the filing fee being processed, please note that this is currently a national trend.

If it has been more than 60 days since filing and you have not received your receipt, you can follow the steps HERE to inquire about your case.

  • Follow step 1 (Ask USCIS for Help) and if that does not work, proceed with step 2 (Submit Request for Case Assistance with the Ombudsman)

We do not recommend that you re-file your application with USCIS unless you are personally advised by an immigration attorney to do so (in which case you must still contact ISSS to obtain the new I-20).

While this is a known issue, we do not know the reason for this, or when circumstances will improve.

International Student Study Requirements for Spring 2021 (Distance Learning)

 

ISSS has confirmed updated guidance from the U.S. government regarding international students and distance learning for the Spring 2021 semester.

Please note the following rules and requirements:

  • Current students who were enrolled March 9, 2020 or earlier: Students who were enrolled in a U.S. academic program on March 9, 2020 and have continued to maintain F-1 visa status may study fully online while in the U.S. Also, if you are studying full time from your home country, ISSS may keep your SEVIS record active while you are gone, even if your total absence exceeds 5 months.
  • Current students who arrived after March 9, 2020: Students who arrived in the U.S. to begin your program after March 9, 2020 were required to take at least one in-person or hybrid course during Fall 2020 as part of your full-time enrollment. In Spring 2021, this requirement continues, and you must have at least one in-person or hybrid course as part of your Spring 2021 full time course load.
  • New students for Spring 2021: Students who will travel to the U.S. to begin a program for Spring 2021 must have at least one in-person or hybrid course as part of your full-time enrollment.

Special Situations

  • Former students returning on an initial attendance I-20: Students who were present and enrolled in a program of study on March 9, 2020, but who have not maintained continuous F-1 status, and will return to the U.S. on an I-20 issued for initial attendance, should enroll in at least one in-person or hybrid course if returning to the United States for Spring 2021 semester.
  • SEVIS Transfer and Change Education Level Students: Students who are new to their UConn program for Spring 2021, but were in the U.S. on March 9, 2020 studying at another institution, or in a different UConn program, and have continued their F-1 status through the SEVIS Transfer process or Change Education Level process may study fully online while in the U.S.
  • Change of Visa Status Students: Students who are requesting a change of visa status to F-1 with an I-20 start date of Spring 2021 or earlier should enroll in at least one in-person or hybrid course as part of your full-time enrollment. While this situation is not directly addressed in the government guidance, we suggest you follow this, even if you were present and enrolled at a U.S. institution in another visa status on March 9, 2020.
  • J-1 Visa Students: If you are in the U.S. on a J-1 student visa for study, we anticipate the same rules will apply as noted above. We are still awaiting official guidance from the Department of State on this matter, but in past semesters the Department of State has mirrored the guidance for F-1 students.

 

Questions? Please contact international@uconn.edu and your message will be forwarded to your ISSS Advisor.

Updates to OPT litigation, H-1B Rules

Great news for international students on F visas! On November 30th, a federal district court indicated they will deny a labor union’s ongoing litigation against the federal government, which threatened to overturn the post-completion OPT and STEM OPT benefits for F-1 students. This action means the OPT and STEM OPT benefits are no longer threatened by this lawsuit. More information can be found here.

Also, on December 1, 2020 a federal district court locked two new rules impacting H-1B visas from implementation, citing the government agencies behind the rules, did not have just cause to publish the rules without a notice/comment period. More information can be found on the NAFSA website.

Proposed Rule to Establish Fixed Period of Stay for F-1 Students and J-1 Exchange Visitors

NOTE: The information presented on this page is not in effect. We do not know if these changes will ever go into effect.

Rule History

The proposed rule to establish a fixed period of stay for F-visa students, J-visa exchange visitors and I-visa journalists was published September 25. The rule seeks to change regulations related to the admission and authorized period of stay for these visa holders and their accompanying dependents. The government accepted public comment on the proposed rule for 30 days after the publication date.  The comment window ended October 26. The Department of Homeland Security is required to read all comments, and may publish a final rule in the future that could be different from the content published in the proposed rule. 

Rule Summary

The proposed rule would establish a maximum period of stay for F and J visa holders, with the possibility for extension to complete program program objectives. There would also be other changes to student eligibility and procedure for program extensions, OPT filing, ESL study length, and limitations on pursuing multiple programs at the same or lower education levels.  We have highlighted some changes in the proposed rule that would have greatest impact on F and J visa holders.

F and J visa holders would be admitted and allowed to stay for a specific period of time, instead of for Duration of Status (D/S), which allows you to stay for the duration of your program and any extensions related to your visa status. Under the proposed rule, that period of stay would be until the program end date listed on your Form I-20 or DS-2019 when you arrive, up to a maximum of four years, or in some cases, two years. Here are some scenarios of how this rule would impact your authorized period of stay:

Example 1: Master’s Student

If you have a Form I-20 or DS-2019 with program dates of 8/30/2021 to 5/31/2023, and you arrive in the U.S. on 8/1/2021 (earliest possible arrival date) your allowed period of stay would be until 5/31/2023, approximately 22 months, or two academic years.

Example 2: Bachelor’s Student

If you have an I-20 or DS-2019 with program dates of 8/30/2021 to 5/31/2025, and you arrive in the U.S. on 8/1/2021, your allowed period of stay would be until 5/31/2025 (if you qualify for maximum 4 year stay) or until 7/31/2023 (if you qualify for maximum 2 year stay). If admitted for a maximum 2 year stay, your program length is longer than your period of authorized stay, so you would need to either apply for an extension of stay with the U.S. government, or depart the U.S. and return with your same I-20 to be admitted for a new period of stay. 

Example 3: PhD Student

If you have an I-20 or DS-2019 with program dates of 8/30/2021 - 5/31/2028, and you arrive in the U.S. on 8/1/2021, your allowed period of stay would be either until 7/31/2025 (if admitted for 4 years) or 7/31/2023 (if admitted for two years). Your program length is longer than your period of authorized stay, so you would need to either apply for an extension of stay with the U.S. government, or depart the U.S. and return with your same I-20 to be admitted for a new period of stay.

Example 4: Visiting Scholar

If you have a one year research appointment at UConn, and your DS-2019 form lists program dates of 8/30/2021-7/31/2022, then you would be admitted until 7/31/2022, or a period of one year. If your appointment at UConn is extended beyond 7/31/2022, you would need to either apply for an extension of stay with the U.S. government, or depart the U.S. and return with your new DS-2019 to be admitted for a new period of stay.

 

Maximum Period of Stay

Under the proposed rule, some students and scholars would only be eligible for a maximum two-year period of stay at a time, instead of four years. These include students and scholars who: 

    • Were born in or are citizens of countries designated by the U.S. as state sponsors of terrorism (currently, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Syria).
    • Come from countries that have a student and exchange visitor visa overstay rate of more than 10%. A current list of countries can be found on the most recent  DHS Visa Overstay Report (Table 4, Column 6). 
    • Are determined that it be in the U.S. national interest to admit for a maximum two year period of stay. For example, students who study in certain academic majors could be subject on this basis to a two year maximum period of stay. 
    • Attend schools that do not use the E-Verify system to process newly hired employees
    • Attend schools that are not accredited.
    • The government would issue a Federal Register Notification to identify countries that are subject to the two year maximum period of stay based on state sponsor of terrorism or visa over stay status, and any criteria where it may be in the nation’s interest to limit stay to maximum two years at a time. 

Other Rule Details

  • ESL students would be limited to a maximum period of study of 24 months, including any vacation periods.
  • The grace period to depart the U.S. after the period of authorized stay would be 30 days, instead of the current 60 days.
  • There would be limits on the number of times a student can pursue a degree at the same education level, or to move to a lower educational level. 
  • If students and scholars need to stay beyond the period of time listed on the Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 to complete their program, they must request an extension of the Form I-20 or DS-2019, as they do now. But if this extension also brings you beyond your period of approved stay, you must either leave the U.S. and reenter with your new I-20/DS-2019, or apply for an extension of stay with the U.S. government. Here are some examples: 

Example 1: Extension of Academic Program

If a student has an I-20 valid until May 31, 2022 and cannot finish their academic program by that day, they need to apply for an extension of the I-20 or DS-2019, to reflect the new program end date. ISSS approves an extension until December 31, 2022 and issues a new I-20. Presuming their period of approved stay also ends May 31, 2022, they need to use the new I-20 to leave and reenter the U.S., to be admitted until December 31, 2022, or they can use the I-20 to apply for an extension of stay without leaving the country, by filing Form I-539. 

Example 2: Extension of stay for OPT

If a student has an I-20 valid until May 31, 2022 and wants to apply for OPT, they will need to obtain an OPT recommendation I-20 from ISSS. For this example, the student requests an OPT period of July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023. Presuming the current approved period of stay ends on  May 31, 2022 (matching the I-20 end date), the student would then need to apply to USCIS for the OPT with Form I-765, and the Extension of Stay benefit with Form I-539. The student would not be able to begin their OPT until both the EAD is issued and the start date is reached, and the extension of stay is approved. 

Example 3: Extension of Stay to begin a new program in the U.S.

If a student has an I-20 or DS-2019 to study in their current program valid until May 31, 2022, and their current authorized stay also ends May 31, 2022. They want to begin a new program at another school in the United States after finishing this program, and so they work with ISSS to  complete the SEVIS transfer procedure, in order to get a new I-20 from their new school. However, they would also need to take steps to extend their approved stay. To do this, they can either depart the U.S. and reenter with their new school’s I-20, or remain in the U.S. and file for an extension of stay with USCIS. The new period of stay will end on the new school's I-20 end date, not to exceed a maximum of 4 (or 2) years. 

Example 4: A Visiting Scholar Extends Program

A visiting scholar typically comes to UConn for a period of one year or less. The period of stay listed on the DS-2019 form matches the offer letter or contract that UConn provides to the scholar. It is common for UConn to extend the contracts for visiting scholars to continue their research or teaching. In this situation, the scholar would need to extend the DS-2019 with ISSS before the Form DS-2019 program end date, and then take steps to also extend their authorized stay with the government. This is done either by departing the U.S. and returning with the new DS-2019, or by filing an extension of stay application with the U.S. government. If the contract at UConn is extended annually, visiting scholars will need to take these same steps annually to extend their stay. 

 

 

UConn and State of Connecticut Response

The University of Connecticut does not support this proposed rule, and has submitted a comment to the Department of Homeland Security, urging that the proposed rule not go into effect. You can read President Thomas Katsouleas’ comment here.  

Connecticut senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal have signed on to a letter opposing the rule submitted by U.S.senators. Read their letter here.  

The Connecticut’s  Attorney General signed on to a letter opposing the rule submitted by the State Attorney’s General coalition. Read that letter here

Further Resources

Read the proposed rule itself, here

NAFSA, Association of International Educators maintains an up to date web page summarizing important details of the rule, and the latest case developments. Visit that page here