ESM Prep

Visa Questions? Breaking It Down for International Students

Keeping up with all of the recent headlines surrounding fall university admissions can be overwhelming. Here we break down the most-critical information for students planning to study in the US this fall: 

If you do not need a student visa 

Colleges have largely shared their plans for the fall semester. All universities will see changes to their normal routine, from enhanced sanitation and social distancing to fully-online semesters. Universities have done a great job of presenting this information as clearly as possible on their individual websites—most have banners at the top of their home pages that link to the latest campus announcements. If you want to see multiple schools’ decisions at a glance, we’ve summarised the main plans and compiled a list of our students’ most-popular colleges here


If you do need a student visa

In addition to being aware of individual college plans, international students will need to be aware of US federal government policies. While the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency recently released guidelines that would have prevented international students from obtaining student visas if their universities were 100% online, this decision was partially backtracked after a law suit brought by Harvard and MIT (which are both planning on mostly online instruction). 


As it currently stands, returning international students should have no issues with immigration. Incoming freshmen are still subject to the new guidelines, which as of now, state that incoming freshmen pursuing a course of study that is 100% online will not be granted visas. If a university switches from in-person learning to 100% online after a student is already in the United States on a visa, then that student will be able to remain in the US. This is subject to change, so please make sure you review and understand the guidelines thoroughly before making any decisions. The new guidelines are further complicated by the fact that visa processing has been paused in many countries (although processing has resumed in the UK).


There is reason to be hopeful, however. International students are invaluable to American higher education campuses. As such, universities are generally very supportive of international students. In fact, professors at UC-Berkeley recently offered to host special in-person classes in order to legally and safely welcome international students to campus.

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Disclaimer: while we pride ourselves on our knowledge of the American application process, we are not immigration advisers. If you have unanswered questions about your specific situation, then please contact your university’s admissions office. 

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