Citing COVID-19 outbreak, Northeastern University president pushes for federal protections for F-1 visa holders

Thousands of international students attend Northeastern University, many of them in the U.S. on F-1 student visas. Photo by Billie Weiss/Northeastern University

Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University, is urging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide relief to students in the U.S. on F-1 visas who will likely need to take classes online to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 and safeguard public health.

Thousands of international students take courses at Northeastern University. Many of them take classes on Northeastern campuses that, following the guidance of state and local authorities regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, will offer online instruction.

Starting Monday, March 9, Northeastern’s Seattle campus will move to online instruction to its more than 700 students, many of whom are in the U.S. on F-1 visas. However, the students who hold F-1 visas are limited by the Department of Homeland Security’s current regulations, which require that they participate in in-person course instruction, and limit their ability to take advantage of courses delivered online.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances required to protect public health, relief from the in-person learning requirements for F-1 international students at Northeastern in Seattle—and at higher education institutions around the country—is not only necessary to prevent disruption to students’ studies, but is also manifestly in the public interest as community spread of COVID-19 widens across the United States,” Aoun wrote in a letter to Chad F. Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Students should not be put in the difficult position of risking their health or jeopardizing their education,” Aoun wrote. “Our nation has a long and proud tradition of opening its doors to welcome the best and the brightest from around the world to access higher education. Providing flexibility to permit students to pursue their dreams unfettered from the threat of violation of immigration status or visa revocation is a common-sense and essential approach in this time of unprecedented public health concerns.”

Northeastern’s global university system also includes campuses in London; Toronto; Vancouver; Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Nahant, and Burlington; Portland, Maine; and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Northeastern urges students to contact their primary care clinicians If symptoms of COVID-19 develop at any point, regardless of recent travel destinations, and faculty and staff to contact their appropriate healthcare providers. (Medical resources for each of Northeastern’s campuses can be found here.) Anyone who shows symptoms should self-isolate as soon as possible.

University updates to faculty, staff, and students will be issued via email and posted on the dedicated COVID-19 website. Northeastern is also equipping call-center operators to provide additional advice and assistance.

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