International freshmen will not be able to come to campus this fall due to federal visa restrictions, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote to undergraduates Tuesday afternoon.
Hours after Harvard announced early this month that all of its courses will be virtual, the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released an order prohibiting international students from remaining in the United States if they are taking an all-online course load this fall.
Though the federal government has since withdrawn that directive, Khurana wrote that the reversal does not apply to newly admitted international students requiring F-1 sponsorship.
He wrote that any incoming Harvard student who received a Form I-20 to begin their studies this fall will be unable to enter the U.S. in F-1 status because all undergraduate fall courses will be fully remote.
“We abhor any policies that seek to force us to choose between our community's health and the education of our international students,” Khurana wrote.
He added that the University is collaborating with members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation to advocate for extending the online exemption to incoming freshmen and to guarantee flexibility for the duration of the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, we don’t anticipate any change to the policy in time for the fall semester,” Khurana wrote.
During a town hall for international students early July, many undergraduates asked administrators whether the College would consider offering courses in-person or through a hybrid model that incorporates some in-person instruction.
“We explored this option and concluded that given the unpredictability of current government policies and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis, this path could jeopardize both our international students’ ability to enter or leave the United States in the future and our community’s health,” Khurana wrote in his email.
Khurana explained that the College is protecting international freshmen from a scenario in which they would travel to the U.S., only to be asked to return home. Such a scenario would prove doubly disastrous if border closures prevented them from fulfilling that federal demand, leaving them trapped between countries.
Khurana wrote Tuesday that incoming international students may opt to start their College experience remotely from home, or instead defer their enrollment up until July 31. He also noted that international students who choose to defer will be guaranteed housing upon their arrival on campus, a promise College administrators have repeatedly said they cannot make to students who take leaves of absence.
Khurana added that the Office of International Education will reach out to individual students to examine their options.
“I recognize that our first-year international students now face a stressful and difficult decision,” Khurana concluded. “I am hopeful that brighter days are ahead.”
—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.
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