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Editor’s note: On July 14, 2020, the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security rescinded its policy that would bar international students who only take online courses from staying in the U.S. The policy regarding online coursework returns to the federal guidance published for spring and summer, which allows continuing international students to remain in the U.S. while taking all online classes, regardless of what format their school uses for course delivery.

The following message was shared with the students, faculty, and staff of the 10-campus University of Hawaiʻi system on July 9, 2020.


This past Monday the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided new guidance on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) that governs the eligibility for international students to remain in the U.S. for their studies. While it has long been the case that international students cannot take a fully online course load while in the U.S., this requirement was waived during spring and summer 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced higher education institutions across the country to abruptly shift to fully online instruction.

The new guidance revokes the spring 2020 guidance, so for fall 2020, international students in the U.S. are not permitted to enroll in a schedule of only online courses. Most troublingly, this guidance would apply even if all their courses shift to fully online in the middle of a semester again.

We view the new guidelines as unfair, harmful and inappropriate in the unpredictable situation we all face during this COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The federal government’s new guidance has created unnecessary fear and uncertainty for international students on our UH campuses and across the nation.

Our first and highest priority right now is to ensure we can enable all our international students to continue their UH education in Hawaiʻi. There were nearly 2,400 undergraduate and graduate international students enrolled at UH’s 10 campuses in fall 2019. They have long been vital members of the UH ʻohana, and we embrace our commitments to support their education here.

After studying the new DHS guidance and reviewing the SEVP rules, we believe that we can enable our international students to continue their UH studies under the current guidance, even if the campus needs to revert back online. As we finalize our approach we will advise our international students accordingly.

Our experience is that this type of situation can be quite dynamic, which adds to the uncertainty. We are working with our congressional delegation and professional associations to attempt to correct these guidelines.

E malama pono,
David Lassner
UH President

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