Immigration updates for international students and scholars: December 2020

Dec. 7, 2020

Visas, travel and planning ahead for spring 2021

The U.S. Department of State announced earlier this summer that U.S. consulates began phased resumption of visa services; however, recent surges of COVID-19 cases have caused many consulates to cancel or postpone visa appointments. In some locations, consular offices have indicated they will prioritize “emergency” visa services, including scheduled student and scholar appointments. Please check the visa appointment wait times for the embassy/consulate in your area of residence. We have provided a letter that can be used as a supporting document for newly-admitted international students for along with the primary visa certification document. If you have questions, please contact your ISSS adviser.

With the gradual resumption of international flight services, travel options are increasing and looking more promising for students to arrive in time for the spring semester. Review our information about International Student Welcome and updated guidance for spring 2021. A helpful resource for travel regulations by country is the IATA COVID-19 Travel Regulations Map.

The CDC has updated its guidance for international travelers and recommends pre- and post-travel COVID-19 testing, as well as self-quarantining upon arrival to the U.S. for at least seven days. MU international students and scholars will have access to testing upon arrival — more information about testing is available on the Student Health Center website. If you will be living on campus, contact MU Residential Life ( to make arrangements for self-quarantine. If you will be living in off-campus housing, communicate with the property manager and roommate (if applicable) regarding your arrival plans and self-quarantine options.

We regret that, as of this update, we have not received official notification regarding spring 2021 from the Student Exchange Visitor Program, the agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that sets student and scholar immigration policy and provides schools with guidance to maintain compliance with federal immigration regulations.

Though SEVP extended the temporary COVID-19 regulatory provisions for the fall 2020 term, we do not yet know whether the provisions will continue through the spring 2021 semester. If the provisions are extended, refer to the fall 2020 guidance as you make plans for your spring course registration and enrollment. If you plan to remain outside the U.S. and enroll in online courses, you must inform your ISSS adviser so we can review your SEVIS record and keep you informed of any changes in SEVP policies and guidance.

We are meeting with the DHS/SEVP field representative this week and will be seeking clarification about spring 2021 regulatory provisions. We will update you as soon as possible.

Other key immigration news

Federal judge rejects 2016 lawsuit challenging the legality of Optional Practical Training

U.S. District Court judge Reggie B. Walton issues a summary judgement order on Nov. 30, 2020, upholding the Department of Homeland Security’s post-graduate OPT programs. The order rejected the lawsuit brought by plaintiffs Washington Alliance of Technology Workers seeking to strike down OPT and STEM OPT. This decision ensures the OPT and STEM OPT programs will remain in place for now, though WashTech is expected to appeal the ruling. Additional information is available on the NAFSA website.

Federal judge blocks H-1B wage rules

On Dec. 1, 2020, a federal judge declared that the Trump administration violated the law when it published two regulations in October to restrict H-1B visas. The plaintiffs, which included business and universities, argued that economic data, the administration’s long delay and other factors did not warrant the government’s decision to bypass standard rulemaking procedures. The judgement blocks both rules from being implemented or enforced. Additional information is available on the NAFSA website.

Senate passes Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act

The bill, S. 386, increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from the current 7% of the total number of such visas available in a particular year to 15%. It also has provisions to:

  • Eliminate the current 7% cap for employment-based immigrant visas.
  • Remove an offset that reduced the number of visas for individuals from China.
  • Establish transition rules for employment-based visas from fiscal year 2020 to 2022.
  • Establish that, of the unreserved visas, not more than 85% will be allotted to immigrants from any single country.

S. 386 must be reconciled with the House bill (H.R. 1044) before being signed by the president to take effect. We do not know the likelihood of its passage.

ISSS is here to support you

If you have questions, please contact International Student and Scholar Services. We support creating a comprehensive visa and immigration process that reflects MU’s values of respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence. We encourage policies that attract the world’s brightest students and scholars, meet the needs of our local, state and national progress and economic development, and recognize our commitment to produce and disseminate knowledge.

As we work to expand our international reach and reputation, MU must be strategic in where and how it invests time and resources. The MU Internationalization Strategic Plan supports the compacts within the MU Strategic Plan by identifying priority partnerships, collaborations and countries where we expect growth in student mobility.