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Foreign Students Report Being Barred From Entry

FILE - Sign points to a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., March 26, 2019.
FILE - Sign points to a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., March 26, 2019.

International students continue to report difficulties trying to enter the United States, despite a win last week by universities to clear the way.

“Heads up returning F-1 students,” immigration lawyer Greg Siskind tweeted Wednesday. “I am hearing numerous instances of @CBP ports of entry, pre-flight inspection offices and @TravelGov consulates ignoring the Harvard/MIT settlement and denying visas/entry for returning F-1s at schools staying online.”

Last week, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, citing a rule that said international students had to be in person on campus for fall classes or risk losing their visa status.

Many schools switched to online-only classes earlier this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic to limit the spread of the disease caused by the coronavirus. The universities argued that mandating students to be on campus in person was a health and safety risk.

But on the day the federal judge was set to rule, U.S. immigration agencies rescinded their directive that would have barred international students from maintaining their visas if they did not continue their studies in person in the United States. More than 1 million international students are enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities.

One traveler tweeted that their F-1 student visa was approved at the airport, but another traveler was denied because they lacked proof their university was conducting classes in person.

“Better carrying some sort of proof from the university stating that lessons are hybrid,” tweeted user @marcodstella on July 22.

Other students traveling to the United States posted on Twitter that they, too, were asked to show proof that their universities offered hybrid – and not online only – enrollment to board.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection operates 16 pre-clearance locations in six countries: Ireland, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the United Arab Emirates, Aruba and Canada, according to the CBP website.

All passengers boarding U.S.-bound flights at those 16 locations go through a CBP pre-clearance at the point of departure. When they arrive in the U.S., they are examined at another CBP inspection.

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs stated on its website that students traveling from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas would not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual national interest exception.

“Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for a national interest exception to travel,” the update read.

A national interest exception to travel sidesteps presidential proclamations, according to the State Department, to “assist with the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and bolster key components of our transatlantic relationship.”

But many students looking for help from U.S. embassies and consulates have found those services closed because of COVID-19.

“When will the F-1 visa processing resume in Istanbul? Most of the U.S. consulates in Europe already started offering visa interviews for F-1 students. My school starts in 4 weeks; need help!”

“When will Embassy reopen for F-1 Visa Interviews? Please clarify … It is highly frustrating for new students who have their future on stake! People have left their jobs for joining colleges in Fall 2020 semester … But it seems no one cares!”

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs tweeted that U.S. embassies and consulates were beginning “the phased resumption of routine visa services. The dates for each embassy or consulate will depend on local conditions.”

“Please monitor the embassy or consulate website for updates,” it stated.