The US student visa regulations in the light of coronavirus pandemic has left some undesirable consequences on aspiring students and International students who are already in the US. The Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) issued a notice to all International students studying in US to transfer to a school with in-person classes or leave the country if classes are delivered completely online.

The US government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) continue to release guidance on student visa regulations which continues to update as per the Covid-19 situation. The concerns of international students such as International Travel Ban, economic impact on their financial aid or school sponsored work opportunities; lack of internship opportunities has grown bigger after SEVP announced that International students at colleges that provide Only-Online classes this fall will be forced to leave the US.

The New Rules for International Students in the US

The earlier rules provided protection for International students and supported them to remain in the country even if their classes were held online. The new rules, however, have been modified in the light of COVID-19 situation.  The new rules are outlined below:

  • International students in the US that are attending schools that are operating entirely online, have an option, which is, not to take full online course load and remain in the country and the students can either transfer to a school that offers an in-person classroom setting or leave the country.
  • International students are only allowed to take one online course or three credit hours.
  • For students attending a school that offers a hybrid model of in-person and online courses may be allowed to stay in the country if they meet certain conditions. Students will need to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” certifying that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.

Here’s what International students and recent graduates should consider in the light of recent updated guidelines from the government.

  1. Request a Temporary Absence
  2. Remote Learning in the Summer
  3. Taking Online classes in the Fall
  4. Flexibility with Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Request a Temporary Absence

If students are not willing to enroll in online classes and are not taking full time course load, they will have to request a temporary absence. Such students should contact their Designated School Officer (DSO), who helps them in maintaining their legal status to study in the US.

Students taking an authorized temporary absence of less than5 months can have their record corrected in SEVIC to active status when they return and re-enroll in school.

Students outside of the US for more than 5 consecutive months will need to obtain a new form I-20 the certificate for Eligibility for nonimmigrant student status. They must also pay I-901 SEVIC fee again if the original visa is no longer valid.

Remote Learning in the summer

SEVP issued modified guidelines that permits international students to participate in remote learning remain valid through the summer session. F-1 students, who are out of United States but have attended a college or university that offers online or other alternative learning options, must participate in this program to remain in valid status. The students will be required to return to US once the college starts offering only on-campus classes.

Taking online classes in the fall

The guidelines for spring and summer courses online have changed. The US department of states will not issue visas to international students who have enrolled in institutions that offer full online course for fall semester. Students who are currently in the US and attend institutions that offer Online-only classes must return to their home country. These students can maintain their nomination status remotely from their home country.

Students attending schools that offer both online and in-person classes will be allowed to remain in US. The school must notify SEVP that student’s courses are not completely online. 

Flexibility with Optional Practical Training (OPT)

As per the new guidelines for the fall of 2020 international students who are currently in the US can retain their active status in SEVIS if they make normal progress in a program study, or are engaged in approved practical training, either as part of a program of study or following completion of a program of study. 

Optional Practical Training can either be paid job or a volunteer work or a combination of both. A student who drops below 20 hours per week of work hours might consider adding some volunteer hours.

Status of International students in Canada

Special considerations are being made by IRCC for students who wish to extend their status in Canada and avoid International travel. International students who are currently in Canada are encouraged to remain in Canada even if their courses are held online or In-person. Applications for student permits are accepted, however, you must delay your admission if the courses are offered online and must wait until the program has transitioned into an In-person classroom setting.

We recommend international students stay in direct and regular contact with their individual school’s international student services office and designated school official, and avoid relying on rumours.

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