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July 23, 2020

International students still being denied visas, AGs warn

Photo | SHNS Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey

One week after the federal government agreed to walk back a controversial policy banning international students from staying on American soil if they take online-only courses this fall, attorneys general in more than a dozen states warned that students are still being told they will not qualify for visas.

A group of state attorneys general led by Maura Healey told a federal judge Tuesday that federal officials have not yet followed through with their pledge to keep in place a COVID-era policy suspending typical in-person course requirements for college students on international visas. The court filing was first reported by Law360.

In the status filing with Judge Allison Burroughs, Healey and her peers asked for "further guidance" to rescind the original proposal from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

"The Plaintiffs States have heard from colleges and universities in our States that, after the Defendants' agreement on July 14, 2020 to rescind the implementation of the July 6 directive, students have nevertheless been told by consular officers at the State Department or other government officials or websites that they will need updated I-20 forms or other proof that that their programs of study are not entirely online if they wish to obtain visas and/or enter the country," they wrote. "As recently as today, July 21, 2020, student visa applications have been denied or put on administrative hold due to lack of evidence of in-person classes."

Healey and the other states had sued the Trump administration last week over the abrupt policy change, as did Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Before the case went to court, federal officials agreed to revert their policy to one implemented in early March that allows international students to remain in the United States during the public health emergency even if their schools offer only online courses.

The attorneys said they "understand and recognize" it may take some time for the federal government to complete the shift, and they asked for updated guidance to ensure the agreement remains in place.

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