The past few weeks saw multiple study visa changes by the United States. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) originally released a guideline that prohibits international students from entering the country if their full course is to be taken online. It also stated that existing international students in the US must leave the country if their full course is online. One week and multiple lawsuits later, that policy was fortunately rescinded by the US government.
If you’re still confused and not up-to-date on the latest changes, we’ve created a guide to answer all your questions from SEVP and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For the sake of clarity, nonimmigrants refer to foreign nationals who wish to temporarily enter the US.
My student will be in a hybrid program this fall 2020, where there is a mix of in-person and online classes. Will they be allowed to enter the US?
Yes. As long as at least one course is done in-person, the student will be able to apply for a visa and enter the US. Designated school officials (DSO) will be issuing I-20 forms to nonimmigrant student applicants.
As per SEVP regulations 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G), online and distance learning will count towards the full course of F-1 students enrolled in language study programs. Can a student still apply for a US study visa if they are enrolled in hybrid classes?
According to a guideline in March 2020, nonimmigrant students who will be in programs with online components beyond that of the 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) can still get F or M visas. However, those who are in New or Initial status after March 9 and will be taking their full course online cannot enter the US.
Can students stay in the US if they are enrolled in a full online course?
Yes. Nonimmigrant students who are already in the US can remain in the country even if they are taking their courses fully online. This includes students who are in Active status and are starting a new program of study that is entirely online.
Does taking online programs this fall 2020 reduce their chances of visa approval?
Visa eligibility is under the discretion of the US Department of State and not the SEVP. However, it will not negatively impact their visa application as nonimmigrant students can still apply for a study visa and enter the US as long as they have at least one in-person class.
What should M students do if their classes are hands-on and cannot be taught online?
M-1 students can remain in Active status, and they can stay in the US until the next session or until classes return to normal. If it seems like their program cannot be completed on the specified date of their visas, students can also file for an extension. More details on extensions and delays can be found here.
My student already has a valid F-1/M-1 visa and is planning to take her full course online but temporarily left the US. Will they need a new study visa to enter the country?
If the student has already been enrolled before March 9, 2020, and has an Active status, they can still enter the US even if they will be taking their full course online.
Can students remain in the United States if their school switches from traditional in-person or hybrid instruction to fully online instruction?
Yes. Nonimmigrant students whose program switched from traditional to online or hybrid learning can still stay in the US and their status will be unaffected by the change.
Can a student applying for the first time this fall 2020 semester qualify for a study visa if their full course will be 100% online?
No. Students applying after March 9 and taking full courses online will not be eligible for an F or M visa. DSOs are not allowed to issue I-20 forms to a nonimmigrant student in New or Initial status if they are outside the US and plan to take their course entirely online.
Can an institution issue an electronic I-20 form for the fall 2020 semester?
Yes. SEVP will allow the electronic issuance of I-20 forms, which they can send through either the student or their guardian’s (for minors) email.
Will students need the original physical, ink-signed I-20 form once schools reopen?
Electronic I-20 forms or those with electronic signatures will remain valid until the student needs an updated I-20 form.
What should schools report on F or M students’ I-20 forms for the fall 2020 semester?
According to SEVP’s FAQs, institutions must note if a student will be continuing their studies outside the US. Also, institutions that have already issued I-20 forms following the guidance released last July 7 no longer need to reissue an I-20 form. If the institution did not release a new I-20 form in accordance with the July 7 guidelines, they do not need to reissue another I-20 unless significant changes need to be updated.
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