Executive Order Affecting Foreign Students Expected

June 17, 2020

On June 2, a group of 21 Republican House Representatives sent a letter to the Departments of State and Homeland Security outlining the importance of attracting international students to the United States and expressing support for the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. OPT enables international students to work in the U.S. for one to three years post graduation.

The letter describes how international students make significant intellectual and economic contributions to our universities and communities. The letter also expresses support for additional student visa programs to bolster U.S. international competitiveness and provides clarity as U.S. colleges and universities prepare to reopen their campuses. 

In a separate letter sent on May 7, with a very different message, four Republican Senators argued that to best protect job opportunities for Americans, the administration should temporarily suspend the program during pandemic recovery.

According to sources, these letters were sent in anticipation of increased restriction on legal immigration. The administration is reportedly on the verge of announcing an Executive Order that would temporarily substantially limit entry to the United States for L-1, H-1B, H-2B and J-1 Visas. The White House had been unsuccessful in gaining support for their earlier efforts to reduce immigration.

Other immigration debates have focused specifically Chinese nationals. A bill (S.3837), the COVID-19 Vaccine Protection Act, by Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) proposed requiring a thorough national security evaluation and clearance by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of all Chinese student visa holders currently in the United States before issuing any new student visas.  The rationale is to protect against intellectual property theft of COVID-19 research. 

The Council of Graduate Schools has also compiled some resources, including a timeline of events.