Some salient points from the July 6, 2020 announcement by US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
In March this year, SEVP had allowed international students enrolled at US Institutions to take more online courses than usually permitted by federal regulation. However, this was a temporary exemption for the spring and summer semesters only and they have now come up with fresh modifications to those exemptions.
This announcement impacts F-1 (international students pursuing academic coursework) and M-1 (international students pursuing vocational coursework) visa holders.
Scenario 1: Your Institution is offering ENTIRELY ONLINE classes only
- You may NOT take a full online course load and remain in the United States
- If you are in USA and enrolled in such an institution, you will have to leave the country or transfer to another institution that has in-person classes
- You will NOT be permitted to enter the United States in case you are outside and wish to re-enter USA for the purpose of study at these institutions
- Freshmen who have enrolled at such institutions will not be granted visas for Fall semester
Scenario 2: Your Institution is offering NORMAL IN-PERSON CLASSES
- You will retain your visa status and can remain in the country while enrolled at these institutions.
- However, you MAY NOT take more than one class or three credit hours online.
Scenario 3: Your Institution is offering a HYBRID MODEL (Mixture of online & in-person)
- You may retain your visa status AND take more than one class or 3 credit hours online.
- You MAY NOT take ONLY online courses in this situation
- In case you are taking any online courses, they must be the minimum required to make normal progress in your degree requirements.
- If you are a new student, you can get a visa only under scenarios 2 and 3
- If you are an existing student, you can enter the country again, or remain in the country, only under scenario 2 and 3
However, for both scenarios 2 and 3, you will need a new Form I-20 to be issued by the Institution with a clear mention of the following:
- that the school is NOT operating entirely online
- that you are NOT TAKING an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester,
- that you are taking the MINIMUM number of online classes (as mandated by federal regulations) that enable you to make normal progress in your degree program
- If your institution switches the mode of delivery at any point during the Fall semester to an entirely online offering leaving you enrolled in only online classes, you may no longer remain in the country.
- If, during the semester, you change your course load such that it becomes entirely online, you must leave the country.
- Only students enrolled at a school that is only offering online coursework can engage in remote learning from their home country. Your record must be updated by the institution to reflect that you are outside the US but taking full time online courses as that is the only choice offered by the school.
There is still some confusion on some points and hopefully, there would be clarity in the coming days. Please remember that all SEVP approved institutions have Designated School Officials (DSOs) trained to answer questions about studying in the US. You must reach out to your DSO to understand the situation as it pertains to you and your institution. Do not assume anything without taking proper advice from your institution.
In case you are going back to the US, ensure you have an updated Form I20 as I mentioned above. However, plan for going back for the Fall Semester only in consultation with your DSO.
I know it is a confusing time, adding to the distress we have all been going through over the last few months. But this too shall pass! I am pretty sure Universities will challenge this order in the courts and it may result in a complete over-turning or at least some changes to make it more student friendly.
Let us wait and watch but in the meantime, reach out to your institution to get clarity on their plans and your resulting status.