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President Aoun’s letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on F-1 student visas

March 6, 2020

The Honorable Chad F. Wolf
Acting Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Wolf:

On behalf of thousands of international students currently enrolled at Northeastern University, I write to urge the Department of Homeland Security to provide immediate relief to students holding F-1 visa status who—following the guidance of state and local authorities regarding the COVID-19 outbreak—need to access courses online to minimize disease transmission and safeguard public health.

As you know, in recent days, both the State of Washington and the Seattle & King County Department of Public Health have issued COVID-19 guidance that cautions against large group gatherings and urges remote work. In response, many large Seattle area employers—including Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, among several others—have instituted remote work policies.

To that end, on Monday, March 9, 2020, Northeastern’s Seattle campus will move to offer online instruction to its more than 700 students in Seattle—many of them holding F-1 visa status. However, under the Department’s current regulations, students who hold F-1 visas are required to participate in in-person course instruction, and are limited in their ability to take advantage of online course delivery.

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. Students should not be put in the difficult position of risking their health or jeopardizing their education.

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.

Thank you for your consideration and attention to this matter. Given the rapidly changing nature of the situation with COVID-19, it is my hope that the Department will address these concerns with all deliberate speed.


Joseph E. Aoun

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