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There is a lot of argument between employees and employers right now about working from home/remotely now that the pandemic is (hopefully) winding down in some countries. Have there been any changes in PhD admissions and, for example, residency requirements in such countries (outside of universities that have always specialized in distance education)? I'm asking in the context of new admissions, not already-accepted students being allowed to work remotely.

I know this is a very broad question but even knowing whether it's being discussed, anywhere, would be helpful.

The always excellent paul garrett brings a good point to mind: assume an occasional trip to the university in question is acceptable, but moving for a period of years is not.

Note: I searched prior to posting and the questions I found seemed more predictive, e.g., questions about how will the COVID-19 pandemic affect PhD admissions, but if this is a duplicate I'll cheerfully close the question.

This question: Have any major universities around the world announced a transition to a remote-first model? and this question: Do Universities make fully-remote contracts? seem to apply more to people with pre-existing affiliations.

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    A small data point: for this last academic year, 2020-21, new grad students from abroad had to be physically present to get on the payroll, etc., even though their work was entirely remote thereafter. I'm at an R1, and this was math, but I think the same principle applied to all international grad students. Jun 22, 2021 at 21:06
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    With respect to admission, at my university in Australia, we require students to obtain a visa before allowing them to enroll remotely; this also requires signatures from upper management, which complicates matters. If a student has a scholarship, then there is no solution as far as I know apart from deferring to the next session. The main bottleneck/issue is that the Aus government is not issuing visas as quickly as before. Jun 22, 2021 at 21:22
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    @paulgarrett - various universities dealt with this in different ways. Some did allow starting remotely.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 22, 2021 at 22:09
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    In the US context, foreign students are required to attend classes in person as a condition of their visas. This rule has been relaxed during the pandemic, but will presumably be back in force this fall. Jun 22, 2021 at 23:10
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    You need to specify a country in your question because the statement that "the pandemic is winding down" is simply untrue. Some countries are entering a third or fourth wave at the moment. Yesterday in Brazil there were nearly 90,000 new cases. There are plenty of countries where barely 20% of the population has been vaccinated. Jun 23, 2021 at 8:40

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I expect all US universities to be back to fully in-person this fall.

While some grad students have always gotten a substantial amount of work done from home, and that will continue and probably become more common, I don't see it likely that universities will allow graduate students to be fully remote/live in another region or country.

For one thing, there are a lot of tax and employment law hurdles to be concerned with. I don't think universities really want to mess with that too much, and individual grad programs don't have the resources to do so. There's also the issue that many grad students are fully or partially supported by teaching appointments - if courses are in-person, their instructors and TAs will have to be in-person.

There's also the issue that for many disciplines, remote work isn't really possible because the work requires bench space and specialized equipment. Sharing data from human subjects research or related to intellectual property across international borders is another area of concern, as are assertions made to funding agencies about where people working on a project are located (for example, US government funding is generally expecting that the work will be done in the US unless specifically approved otherwise).

My own institution recently published a policy for remote work, including for graduate students working from out of state or internationally. You can see it publicly here: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-5087 It's a lot of dull reading, but it mentions some of the complications I've already listed in this post such as the legal issues. In summary, it's allowable if you can demonstrate some substantial reason it's necessary. I suspect these allowances will be quite rare and determined on an individual basis.

An example I would expect the university to make some effort on would be if a dissertator was unable to return to the US to finish their degree due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. I do not expect them to make allowances for new students without a very very good reason, nor to make allowances when there is a mere preference for remote work rather than a necessity.

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