Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 30, 2024

Incoming international students must remain abroad despite visa rule reversal

By CHRIS H. PARK | July 23, 2020



Most incoming international students will not be able to enter the United States this fall.

“Today, we feel forgotten. Everyone believes we still won. The class of 2024 didn’t win. After calls and emails, we’re met with another unyielding reality: we can’t come to campus.”

These are the words of an open letter circulating among international students of the class of 2024 asking for Hopkins to advocate for them.

Last week, the Trump administration abruptly dropped its plans to ban international students taking online-only courses from residing in the U.S. Given that instruction at Hopkins will go fully online following Thanksgiving break, international students at Hopkins would not have been able to return to campus for any portion of the semester had the rule stayed in place. 

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued to block the new rule. In the hearing on that case in the U.S. District Court in Boston on July 14, presiding Judge Allison D. Burroughs announced that the federal government and the universities had come to an agreement, making the suit moot.

The Trump administration rescinded its plan and will revert to the “status quo” Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) policy on in-person enrollment requirements that was adopted in March in response to the COVID-19.

However, per these guidelines, the flexibility on online courses does not apply to new students. As such, incoming freshmen and transfer students outside the United States cannot take more than one online course in order to receive their student visa.

In an email to The News-Letter, Yoko Yamashita, a rising junior from Japan, stated that she viewed the reversal with some skepticism despite her relief to see the Trump administration backtrack on its policy.

“Even though the media and President Daniels’ email were very celebratory and implied that the problem was solved, I felt that there was still an impending catch that would still put some international students in a difficult situation,” she wrote.

In an email to Hopkins affiliates, University President Ronald J. Daniels stated his support for the federal government’s decision to reverse course.

“This month’s sudden and unexpected policy change upended months of Johns Hopkins’ careful planning to balance the desire to resume in-person education with our bedrock commitment to follow the best guidance of our public health experts on how to keep our community safe during the pandemic,” he wrote. “Today’s announcement leaves in place the appropriate accommodations from March.”

Daniels further noted that the lawsuit filed by Hopkins in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will remain open, pending further actions by the Trump administration.

Yamashita wished that the University had been more active in communicating updates given the confusion caused by several changes to visa policies.

“I am grateful that Hopkins stood up for us and filed a lawsuit, but I think that the administration could have communicated with us more,” she wrote. “Before the reversal, I had only received two official emails from President Daniels and neither contained information about any immediate modifications to the fall plan. I was extremely anxious because I had no idea if the University was going to modify its fall plans to accommodate all of us.”

Incoming international students

While the State Department recently announced that U.S. embassies and consulates will soon reopen to offer visa services for students, transfer students currently outside the United States and all newly admitted students at Hopkins will not be able to enter the country.

In an email to international students on July 21, the Office of International Services (OIS) confirmed that most incoming students must make plans to remain abroad. The University’s hybrid approach to the fall makes it impossible for students to take only one online class.

Four days earlier, incoming international students had sent an open letter to Daniels, Provost Kumar, Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka and OIS.

Incoming freshman Kristen Corlay, who is residing in Mexico, stressed in an email to The News-Letter that the letter, which she drafted, was not intended to criticize OIS. 

“We know that JHU doesn’t make the SEVP guidelines, but we want the administration to continue to stand up for international students like they did before the policy was rescinded,” she wrote.

In an email to The News-Letter, Assistant Vice President of External Relations Karen Lancaster for the Office of Communication noted there are congressional actions that might change the current situation.

“We know that new international students are greatly disappointed that the federal government’s current response to the COVID pandemic does not include a path for them to begin their Johns Hopkins education in the manner they envisioned,” Lancaster wrote. “We are greatly disappointed, too, and we will continue to advocate for you in Congress and with the administration.”

At this time, international students have three options: start the fall semester fully online in their home country, defer admissions to spring 2021 or defer admissions to fall 2021.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Ellen Kim stated in an email to The News-Letter that many incoming international students are choosing to attend online classes from home.

“We have not seen an unexpected drop in matriculating students,” she wrote. “Most students seem to be taking advantage of the many flexible options that the university has provided for the fall semester.”

According to Corlay, the letter will help Hopkins students become more mindful of the challenges international students likely will face if they are unable to come to campus.

“We hope that this starts a conversation of how we can be a more inclusive community for international students,” she wrote. “We must be mindful and willing to make a transition towards inclusivity with action [in an online setting]. Whether that’s being aware that not all of your friends will be in the same time zone when scheduling study groups, or even reaching out specifically to international students to learn more about each other’s culture.”

Aanya Shahani, an incoming freshman from India who signed the letter, expressed disappointment that she would not be allowed to come to campus.

“I knew that [coming to campus] was going to be tough because of travel restrictions and visa embassies being shut,” she wrote. “I was crushed by the July 15 email from OIS — it felt like all that we had fought for had gone down the drain because suddenly we were forgotten.”

Shahani added that the lack of plans for future semesters is causing further uncertainties. 

“What’s frustrating is that if we come in the spring, no one has answers for us. What campus housing will be left for us? Will we have to pay insurance for the year? I’m kinda hoping for Hopkins to figure a way to let us come to campus but the realist side of me knows that is not happening,” she wrote. “It’s not equal opportunity if everyone can come to campus but us. Corona is bad. We totally get it, but why only us?”

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