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As international students seek visas, U. announces ‘in-person components of the first-year program’

Louis A. Simpson International building

The Louis A. Simpson Building houses the Davis International Center.

Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

“A number of course components for first-year students will convene in person” in the fall semester, according to the Davis International Center.

The announcement comes after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declared last week that first-year international students with fully online course loads cannot enter the U.S.


In a recent open letter, more than a dozen first-year international students wrote they “urgently need official documents indicating that [they] will receive in-person instruction.”

At a Tuesday webinar, Dean of the College Jill Dolan said the University would not know exactly which classes would be offered in person until enrollment stabilizes, “probably around mid-August.” On Friday, however, the Davis Center released a “Fall 2020 First Year Hybrid Statement,” outlining academic areas where first-year students should expect the option of in-person instruction.

The statement says that these courses include “some Freshman Seminars,” “many Writing Seminars,” and “designated precepts in courses that satisfy Princeton’s general education requirements.”

According to University Spokesperson Ben Chang, the University expects to offer enough in-person options for first-year international students to comply with the ICE policy.

“ODOC [the Office of the Dean of the College] and the Davis International Center have carefully reviewed both the ICE guidance and the Fall 2020 first-year curricular offerings and believe there are enough planned in-person opportunities for new first-year students who arrive by August 30 to comply with current guidance,” Chang wrote to the ‘Prince.’ 

But if students are unable to both obtain visas and arrive on campus by the Aug. 30 deadline, they “must study remotely.”


The Aug. 30 deadline applies to any international student of any class year invited to campus, and “there will be no exceptions to the August 30th arrival policy for overseas or U.S.-based undergraduate students.”

The University statement notes that all first-year international students able to arrive by the deadline “must enroll in at least one in-person course for the fall semester.”

Four Freshman Seminars (FRS) listed on the website of the Dean of the College already include a note stating that their professors hope to meet in person or travel to the University Art Museum, with a fifth description stating that “half of the class will be spent in-person outdoors (rain or shine, hot or cold).” 

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The other 33 FRS course descriptions do not yet state whether faculty intend to offer the courses in-person or virtually. Students will receive Freshman Seminar placement notifications on Aug. 3.

Additionally, many first-year Writing Seminars will include “in-person opportunities such as small group meetings with other students, as well as office hours with the instructor where possible” according to the Davis Center announcement. 

Students learned in mid-July whether they would be required to take a writing seminar first or second semester, and students with fall Writing Seminars will learn their assignments on Aug. 14.

Portions of the recently-announced Entryways program will also convene in person. The program will include a weekly First-Year Community Colloquium, class-wide talks featuring faculty, as well as weekly small-group meetings led by Peer Academic Advisors.

According to the Davis Center announcement, “When possible, these weekly peer-led conversations, which invite students to reflect upon their [Small Seminar Experience] and their transition to college learning, will be held in-person in students’ residential colleges.”

“All of the in-person components of the first-year program of study will be offered in compliance with health and safety guidelines,” the announcement continued. “Such guidelines may require a more irregular approach to our planned in-person experiences than more typical circumstances. As such, it is not possible for Princeton to offer late arrivals to any student for Fall 2020 study.”

Chang added, “the University will continue to review these planned in-person opportunities in light of public health and safety guidelines and regulations and make adjustments as necessary.”  

The Davis Center will also issue new I-20 forms, which are required for students to apply for visas and to enter the United States, by August 7. An email from the Davis Center to an incoming first-year stated that the issuance of an I-20 form should be a “signal” to Customs and Border Protection that the student’s program is not fully online, given current ICE guidance.

It is unclear exactly what documentation is or is not sufficient to prove in-person enrollment. The Davis Center had previously advised students to provide President Eisgruber’s July 8 message, which stated that Princeton will do “much of [its] teaching remotely.”  

During a webinar with parents and families on July 28, Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Brent Colburn indicated that he had “not seen anything that would indicate a requirement of proof of the type of program Princeton is providing in the fall.” 

ICE did not respond to a request for comment about what documentation first-year international students must provide.

Two incoming first-year students who spoke with the ‘Prince’ said they encountered no trouble obtaining visas. Another incoming international student, however, reported that during their visa application interview, an officer “requested proof of the course structure of the classes that [they] specifically will be taking in the fall.”

In light of their pending visa application, the ‘Prince’ granted this student anonymity.

With first-year course selection scheduled for August 25 — only five days before the August 30 deadline to enter the country — it is uncertain whether some students will receive visas in time. 

Seppe De Pauw ’24, an incoming student from Belgium, expressed concern about U.S. Embassy closures, which were announced on March 20 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Students who don’t have their visas yet and whose embassies are only now starting to open up may unfortunately not be able to make the August 30 deadline,” he wrote to the ‘Prince.’  

Farah Sofea Azmi ’24, an incoming student from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, expressed a similar sentiment, having “heard that a few countries aren’t going to resume their visa services until after the deadline.” According to the U.S. State Department, the resumption of routine visa services “will occur on a post-by-post basis.” 

“We are unable to provide a specific date for when each mission will resume specific visa services, or when each mission will return to processing at pre-Covid workload levels,” a mid-July announcement notes. “See each individual U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s website for information regarding operating status and which services it is currently offering.”

The University statement acknowledges that “first-year international students will face challenges in getting a visa in time to arrive by August 30.”

Still, the announcement comes as a relief to many. 

“I think the latest University statement clarifying the class structure for fall 2020 is a huge step forward and should help international students get their visas approved as well as clear immigration,” the student granted anonymity wrote to the ‘Prince.’ The student hopes that officers at the U.S. embassy will reverse their visa denial at an upcoming appointment. 

De Pauw described his visa approval as “a very smooth process.” Sofea Azmi had a similar experience in getting her visa, but also expressed relief upon reading the Davis Center announcement. 

“It’s been great to finally hear some solid news from Princeton,” she said.