Spring 2021 Registration Guidance for International First-Year Students

Spring 2021 Registration Guidance for International First-Year Students

(posted as an ISO Update, and emailed to all MIT international students, on February 8, 2021)

Dear Students,

I am writing in response to inquiries we have received about in-person course requirements for first-year international students on F-1 and J-1 visas. Below, you will see that we have confirmed MIT’s current guidance is in line with federal rules. Students can make a determination about their spring coursework after considering the risks associated with not following MIT’s registration advice. I encourage you to learn more by reading this message in its entirety.

As you are likely aware, the regulations and guidance on this issue come from the federal government–in particular, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department.

You may also recall that, last summer, MIT and Harvard successfully led the charge against a federal policy that would have had the effect of banning continuing F-1 students from remaining in the country if their classes were fully online as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are grateful that our lawsuit prevailed and that international students have been able to pursue their education and their degrees through a mix of hybrid and in-person classes during the pandemic. Unfortunately, however, the lawsuit did not change the longstanding in-person course requirements for new international students.

Following the lawsuit, we issued internal MIT guidance based on the federal rules, in a manner that we believe upholds students’ short- and long-term best interests.

When issuing our guidance, we considered all relevant federal government rules, as well as the COVID-19 related federal guidance and FAQs. We had numerous conversations with our peer institutions, U.S. immigration experts, and individuals within DHS. While DHS’s and the State Department’s guidance are clear that first-year students are not able to pursue fully remote coursework from inside the U.S., there continues to be conflicting guidance on the minimum amount of in-person coursework required for new students.

Please remember that our ultimate goal when issuing immigration guidance is to ensure that international students can successfully enter, study, and potentially pursue training in their field of study in the U.S., both now and after they leave MIT. To that end, we believe that our guidance puts our students in the strongest possible position to fulfill their immediate U.S. immigration needs and their future U.S. immigration plans. And we are grateful that so many DLCs and first-year learning communities developed a comprehensive menu of hybrid course options to make it easier for students to meet this federal requirement.

After receiving questions from some students and faculty, we recently analyzed our guidance again and assessed our position for the upcoming spring semester. Despite the lack of clarity on this topic, we continue to believe that our Fall 2020 guidance is most in line with the federal requirements. Please know that we continue to work with higher education associations to advocate for clearer and more flexible federal rules. But in the meantime, we do not believe that we should change our guidance for the Spring 2021 term. 

Ultimately, individual students can make a decision that best meets their individual needs and circumstances. Please know that if students do not follow our registration advice, they may encounter future issues related to their immigration status or applications that are reviewed and decided by the federal government (such as F-1 OPT, F-1 STEM OPT, H-1B, etc.; as well as visa applications at U.S. Embassies/Consulates abroad). If you are a first-year international student who is considering registering for fewer than 24-units of subjects with in-person components, we strongly advise that you consider these risks.

ISO Advisors are the best resource to turn to for student immigration questions. Therefore, I encourage all first-year undergraduate and graduate international students to reach out to their ISO Advisor during Registration Week if they have questions about their individual immigration matters.

Ian A. Waitz
Vice Chancellor

NOTE: To view the original MIT guidance concerning the Fall 2020 USDHS Guidance on International Students posted on July 29, 2020, please visit here.