US: ACE seeks travel exemption clarifications

Published 23/07/2021

Education associations are seeking clarification around whether continuing international students will be allowed to enter the US as part of the Covid-19 national interest exemption.

Under the NIE, students and certain academics in China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the European Schengen area, the UK and Ireland, unable to enter the US due to Covid restrictions, are subject to exemptions.

The rule applies for any F-1 or M-1 visa holder if their academic program begins August 1, 2021 or later. Organisations say the August 1 is date is “ambiguous” for continuing students as well as students on optional practical training looking to return to the country.

In a letter to the US Department of State and Department of Homeland Security, ACE and 24 other US associations said returning international students “will likely have academic programs or OPT that ‘began’ before August 1, 2021”.

“Can you confirm that continuing F-1 and M-1 students are covered by the NIE if their next session start date is on or after August 1, 2021, and that they can reenter the US under this NIE?,” they wrote.

“In addition, can you confirm that all students on OPT may reenter the US under the NIE to resume their practical training?”

Signees are “pleased” that students will be permitted to travel to the US to start the 2021-2022 academic year and are “grateful for the additional guidance that allows NIEs to remain valid for 12 months from the date of approval and for multiple entries”.

“Can you confirm that all students on OPT may reenter the US under the NIE to resume their practical training?”

The associations called for further clarification around the exemptions on several points.

They asked whether it is sufficient for a student to show at entry to the US to demonstrate the start date of their program to qualify for the NIE and whether US Customs and Border Protection officers are prepared to recognise students under the initiative for entry after August 1.

Additionally, they urged government to consider J-1 exchange visitor students under the blanket NIE policy, rather than needing an individual NIE before traveling to the US.

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