On July 6, 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which runs the U.S. student visa program, announced that international students will not receive U.S. student visas [F-1 and M-1] or be allowed to enter the U.S. if they are enrolled in only online classes for the Fall 2020 Semester. This policy will supersede SEVP’s previous temporary exemption that permitted F-1 and M-1 international students to take more online courses than normally allowed to maintain their nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The temporary procedural adaptations announced by SEVP establish the following guidelines concerning online instructions for the Fall 2020 Semester:
SEVP’s new rules for Fall 2020 Semester will take effect at the start of a school’s pre-determined fall semester. Please note that SEVP’s current COVID-19 guidance will remain in effect through the end of a school’s summer semester.
If a U.S. school changes its operational model mid-semester [i.e. from in-person/hybrid classes to only online classes], and as a result an international student changes to only online classes, the student must leave the U.S. or transfer to a school with in-person instruction.
Yes. While continuing international students attending schools offering online only classes are not permitted to enter or remain in the U.S., they can take online classes from their home country and remain in “Active” status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). In this case, international students have to meet the full course of study requirements or the requirements for a reduced course load.
No, international students will not receive an I-901 SEVIS Fee refund if they have to leave the country because their schools change to only online classes.
Schools must reissue new Forms I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, for each international student certifying to SEVP that: i) the degree program is not entirely online; ii) the student is not taking entirely online classes; and iii) the student is taking the “minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.” The deadline to reissue new Forms I-20 is August 4, 2020. Schools must indicate this information in the Form I-20 “Remarks” field in SEVIS. Additionally, SEVP will still allow electronic Form I-20 issuance for the fall semester.
Schools that offer entirely online classes or will not reopen for the Fall 2020 Semester must complete an operational change plan and submit it to SEVP [Email: firstname.lastname@example.org] no later than July 15, 2020. Moreover, schools that will offer in-person classes, a hybrid plan, or delayed/shortened sessions must update their operational plans by August 1, 2020. SEVP will send an email acknowledging receipt of the operational plan to each school that submits procedural changes and add the submitted information to the school’s file.
Schools that will not have international students enrolled in the Fall 2020 Semester do not need to send procedural changes to SEVP.
SEVP reporting obligations apply to a school, rather than to a specific program within a school. However, when a school’s curricular model varies by program or degree [i.e. a university’s law school provides only online classes, while a medical school offers hybrid classes], the school should indicate the differences.
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