MIT: Remove the Unnecessary Course Requirements for New International Students

MIT Admin

Ensure international students do not face unnecessary and discriminatory burdens.

Petition by
International Support Network MIT
Somerville, Massachusetts

To: MIT Admin
From: [Your Name]

To the MIT administration,

With the Spring term about to begin, it has come to our attention that first-year international students in the US are subject to unnecessarily strict in-person course requirements by MIT.

This creates unfair and disparate impacts: students face reduced time for research, reduced course flexibility, and extra logistical challenges relative to their domestic peers. These challenges have also made it unnecessarily difficult for departments to accommodate their first-year international students by providing in-person courses.

These impacts are avoidable, and hence unjustified. While MIT requires new F-1 international students to take 24 credits (two courses) of hybrid or in-person coursework to remain in the US, peer institutions such as Columbia, Tufts, Berkeley and UMichigan only require new international students to take only one hybrid or in-person course.

This discrepancy stems from MIT’s interpretation of DHS guidelines for new international students. MIT continues to follow the March 9 guidance by DHS, which did not allow new students to take more than one fully online course, pending DHS “monitoring this situation closely” in order to “supplement this guidance” in the future.

However, DHS did supplement this guidance in their August 7 FAQs (p.3, q.2), clarifying that new F-1 students may maintain visa status if they take more than one online course, as long as they do not “pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online”. It is this updated guidance that peer institutions have adopted, and there have been no reports of immigration enforcement against them.

More recently, MIT has also extended the 2 course requirement to first-year J-1 students, forcing them to scramble to find extra units of coursework otherwise irrelevant to their education. This is despite the fact that pre-COVID restrictions on the maximum amount of online coursework only applied to F-1 students, not J-1 students. Furthermore, ISO guidelines in the fall required J-1 students only one hybrid or in person course.

Given the disparate impacts, logistical challenges, and increased in-person contact that these requirements have created, we call upon MIT to revisit, revise, and clarify these requirements. We urge MIT to follow the example of peer institutions, and reduce the requirement to one in-person or hybrid course for the Spring term.

Over the course of this pandemic, international students have been repeatedly subject to opaque, arbitrary, and life-disrupting requirements from both the federal government and MIT. The course requirements for new international students are no exception. We urge MIT to revise them, to create the welcoming and equal environment that students deserve.