Higher Education Groups Plead for Government to Speed Up Student Visa Processing
Several education organizations, including the American Council on Education, have submitted a letter to the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security urging faster international student visa processing before the start of the fall 2021 semester.
The groups asked that the Biden administration relax previous guidance barring international students from traveling and studying in the United States if their programs were entirely online and issue a written policy exempting new students from current travel restrictions. The groups urged that these moves would help kickstart the U.S. economy, as colleges and universities depend financially on international students, who often pay full tuition to attend school in the U.S. In 2020, higher education nationwide saw a more than 70% decrease in new international student enrollment, including a more than 90% decrease in F-1 student visa processing for the month of August.
While current international students can remain in the U.S. even if their programs are online, an existing ICE directive bars new international students from getting visas if their programs are entirely online. This poses a problem for students who enroll in schools that have moved to remote classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many students cannot complete their coursework from abroad due to lack of access to the internet or major time differences during live classes.
At this time, only students from the Schengen Area of Europe, the United Kingdom, and Ireland are exempted from pandemic-related travel restrictions; advocates want this exemption expanded around the world.
While the Department of Homeland Security has not commented on this issue, a spokesperson for the Department of State issued a statement that U.S. Embassies and Consulates are “working to resume routine visa services on a location by location basis,” and that embassies processing nonimmigrant visa applications are prioritizing student visas. Student visa applicants should check the website of their closest embassy or consulate for current operational status.
Canada and Mexico Land Border Restrictions Extended Through April 21, 2021
United States Customs and Border Patrol (“CBP”) has determined that the ban on non-essential travel across U.S. land borders and ferry travel with Canada and Mexico will continue through April 21, 2021. The ban had been set to expire on March 21, 2021.
The directive, initially instituted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has restricted movement across the U.S.-Canadian border to essential travel – including lawful cross-border trade, travel for work in the United States, travel for medical purposes or to attend educational institutions, and travel for emergency response and public health purposes – as well as travel for U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and members of the U.S. Armed Forces returning to the United States, and any other forms of travel determined by the CBP on a case-by-case basis.
Any business travel will be subject to additional review at the border, and because CBP has wide discretion to inspect travelers, foreign nationals may expect additional questioning about employment or business activities in the United States. CBP will review this directive next month to see if another extension is required.
Department of Labor Proposal Extending Delay of Regulation Increasing PERM and H-1B Wages
The U.S. Department of Labor has indicated it will delay enforcement of a regulation that would have raised wage requirements for foreign employees working in specialty occupations in the United States. The new rules were scheduled to take effect May 14, 2021. The Department of Labor is seeking to delay the start date by 18 months and extend the transition period to the new wages to three years.
The new wage rule, introduced by the Trump administration, sought to restructure the current prevailing wage system and lift wage minimums for several visa programs. The Department of Labor announced it was delaying the effective date through May 14, 2021, in order to give the Biden administration time to review the regulation.
If the new wage rules ultimately take effect, employers will still be subject to the Department of Labor’s current prevailing wage rates for the next two years. However, the DOL may make changes to the regulation and its effective date as it reviews public comments on the proposal and conducts its own analysis of the proposed rules.