University President Lawrence S. Bacow called on President-elect Joe Biden to “prioritize the consideration of international students and scholars” in a Monday letter that proposed a slew of immigration policy changes to the incoming administration.
Bacow asked Biden to “act without delay” to issue guidance allowing international students who are enrolled full-time to maintain or receive student visa status — even if classes are online — for the rest of the pandemic, and to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“To remain a world leader, the US and its colleges and universities must be open to ensure that we do not become isolated from the discourse that occurs outside of our borders,” Bacow wrote. “Our present immigration system does not do nearly enough to encourage the legitimate flow of people and ideas or recognize the contributions that immigrants make to the US.”
Currently, under guidance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, only previously-enrolled international students can stay in the country while taking online courses. Bacow has lobbied at least four members of Congress in recent months to ask for more leniency for international students who are forced to take online classes due to the pandemic.
“Such a policy will allow schools to assign top priority to the safety of their communities while at the same time minimizing disruptions to the academic progress of students, especially those outside of the United States who have persevered through the fall term with unreliable or restricted internet and dramatically different time zones,” Bacow wrote.
The letter — which marks the first official communication between Harvard and the incoming administration — comes on the heels of years of public conflict between the University and the Trump administration over immigration policy. Harvard and MIT sued federal immigration authorities in July to reverse a policy that barred international students taking online-only courses from staying in the country. Days later, the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rescinded the policy.
Bacow called on Biden to “ensure that visa processing is streamlined and predictable, with a reasonable timeframe for adjudication.”
“Over the past four years, executive orders and presidential proclamations have barred entry to many, with others beset by processing delays, backlogs, and administrative hurdles designed to frustrate access to opportunities in this country,” Bacow wrote. “As a result, a shadow of uncertainty has been cast over immigrants and nonimmigrants alike—and it has taken a toll.”
Biden has pledged to restore DACA, an Obama-era program that protects individuals who were brought into the U.S. as children without citizenship or legal residency from deportation. Bacow told The Crimson on Dec. 3 he would “welcome” the expansion of DACA, which Trump has worked to terminate throughout his presidency.
In Monday’s letter, Bacow also requested that the incoming administration reissue Temporary Protected Status to individuals from countries in conflict or crisis. Trump phased out the protections — which allow people from countries in crisis to live and work in the U.S. — for hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
“Until we are able to achieve a more permanent solution, protections will be necessary to ensure that these individuals do not lose the right to live and work in the United States, including many at Harvard,” he wrote.
Bacow also wrote he is “pleased” with Biden’s plan to end the Trump administration’s travel ban, which restricts travel to the U.S. from a number of countries with predominantly Muslim populations.
“I encourage you to carefully review and reconsider these other entry bans, ensuring that they are constructive, timelimited, and thoughtfully focused, with clear, expedited processes for the consideration of exemptions,” he wrote.
The Biden transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.
—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.