New International Research Appointments to Be Halted Until October


The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences announced that new international research appointments will not be offered before Oct. 1, 2020 in a newsletter update sent to SEAS affiliates Thursday.

The announcement comes in light of U.S. consular office closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The update cited uncertainty surrounding timing of consular office reopenings and handling of visa applications as the reason for delaying international research appointments.

According to the SEAS website, approximately 70 percent of SEAS academic hires and appointments are “foreign nationals.” International SEAS appointments and hires usually coordinate with the Harvard International Office to obtain visas and proper documentation for working in the U.S.

Ke Li, a postdoctoral fellow in Environmental Science and Engineering, wrote in an emailed statement that he was surprised to hear the announcement. He wrote that while the announcement will not affect current international researchers at Harvard, including himself, it will discourage prospective international postdocs and students from coming to Harvard.


Li added that although he is unsure of exactly what impact the update will have on research conducted by SEAS and Harvard, he anticipates it “will not be marginal.”

Li wrote that he knows of several colleagues that will now have to wait to pursue research opportunities due to the uncertainty surrounding visa applications.

“Some of my friends who have been offered to do postdoc or visiting student research have to hold their breath, because they don’t know when the visa application will be reopened,” Li wrote.

Tianguang Lu, a postdoctoral fellow in SEAS and another current international researcher, explained that while this announcement would not affect his own research, prospective visiting students and scholars may lose the chance to conduct research abroad at Harvard.

“If Harvard delays appointments, they may have to choose another option because they have funding limitations on their schedule,” Lu said. “Most of the visiting students, for example, they choose to visit abroad because they may have one or two years left to graduate. If they can’t do it now, they may never have this experience, so they may choose another option.”

Lu said he does not know at this time the extent to which this announcement might affect the overall Harvard research community.

The SEAS Office for Faculty Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

In the newsletter, SEAS Communications provided a link where Harvard affiliates can submit questions regarding COVID-19. Representatives from SEAS and the FAS Division of Science answer these questions on a daily basis.

The newsletter also encouraged SEAS affiliates to contact the Office for Faculty Affairs with questions regarding the international research appointment announcement.

—Staff writer Brie K. Buchanan can be reached at

—Staff writer Elizabeth X. Guo can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @elizabethxguo.