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Federal guidance for enrolling international students in programs operating in hybrid or online modes due to the pandemic remains the same for the spring term, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program said Tuesday.

"Nonimmigrant students should continue to abide by SEVP guidance originally issued in March 2020," said the spokeswoman, Carissa Cutrell. "The guidance enables schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19."

Continuing international students who were enrolled at a U.S. college as of March 9 can re-enter the U.S. even if their college is engaged in 100 percent distance learning, but new students since March 9 will not be permitted to enter the U.S. to take a fully online course of study this spring. New students will be able to enter the U.S. to take hybrid programs consisting of a mix of in-person and online coursework this spring.

The American Council on Education and several dozen other higher education organizations sent a letter to SEVP Dec. 4 seeking guidance for the spring semester and asking the agency to allow new international students to travel to the U.S. to attend programs that have had to move online due to COVID. The letter refers to “the shocking decline of international student enrollment in the Fall 2020 semester,” citing one survey that found a 43 percent drop in new international students.