Updated July 15th, 2020
Updated Guidance on Fall Enrollment for F-1 Visa Students
On July 14, 2020, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in a hearing involving litigation filed by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) challenging DHS's July 6, 2020, international student guidance, DHS has agreed to fully rescind the July 6, 2020, ICE guidance and July 7, 2020, Frequently Asked Questions, and rescind all implementing guidance. The status quo based upon the agency's March 13, 2020, guidance will remain in force.
Frequently Asked Questions
First-year students currently outside the U.S. are advised to remain in their home country for the fall semester. An FAQ reissued by ICE on July 15 says new international students who are not already in the U.S. should stay in their home country.
Current students in F-1 visa status currently in the U.S. must return to campus and may not register for more than one class that is fully online. If students prefer to enroll fully online, they should depart the U.S.
Many F-1 visa students chose to travel home in the spring and now enroll in the fall term remotely. Since they are still enrolled, do DSOs have to cancel their Forms I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” if they are taking classes outside of the United States for the fall semester?
Under current conditions, if an Active F student leaves the United States to complete the term online, their SEVIS record should remain in Active status and not be terminated. While the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, students deemed to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study.
SEVP will allow F-1 visa students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study in excess of the limits stated in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v), even if they have left the United States and are taking the online classes elsewhere. This temporary provision is only in effect due to COVID-19 and only for schools that comply with the requirement to notify SEVP of any procedural changes within 10 business days.
If their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records remain in Active status, will students be subject to the five-month rule?
The five-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(4) does not apply for students who remain in Active status.
Due to COVID-19, what is the requirement for Initial status students (First-Year or Returning from LOA) who have already arrived in the United States?
Initial students currently in the United States that have reported to their school should be made Active in SEVIS and follow the guidelines the school provides to all its F students related to COVID-19. If Initial students have not arrived in the United States, they should remain in their home country.
How should DSOs handle records for graduating high school seniors who have returned to their home country, but plan to return to start studies at a U.S. college or university?
If the school is offering online classes and students can access those courses from outside of the United States and continue to make normal progress in their course of study, they may continue in Active status in SEVIS
If students wish to drop courses due to dissatisfaction with online courses not providing the same level of instruction, can a school submit a procedural change plan that allows this and keep the students’ SEVIS records Active?
No, students should maintain a full course of study to the extent possible. If a student is unwilling to take online courses or participate in other alternate forms of study as provided in the school’s procedural adaptation plan to SEVP, they should request a temporary absence and be terminated for Authorized Early Withdrawal.
Electronic I-20 Issuance
Can DSOs electronically send signed Forms I-20 to students instead of physically mailing the forms?
Yes, due to COVID-19, DSOs may electronically send Forms I-20 to students listed in SEVIS. Your I-20 will be uploaded into GPS in your profile page under the information tab.
Will schools need to provide students with their original Form I-20 (ink-signed copies) when schools reopen?
Forms I-20 issued electronically or with electronic signatures—as permitted during the COVID-19 emergency—will remain valid until students have a need for an updated Form I-20.
How long is an electronic or digital travel signature valid on the Form I-20? Is it valid for the same amount of time as an ink signature?
An electronic or digital travel signature will be valid for the same duration as an ink signature (12 months for F-1 students enrolled in school and six months for students on OPT or STEM OPT).
Many students’ on-campus employment opportunities are now being conducted remotely while students are able to perform their work duties from home. Can F-1 students engage in remote work for on-campus employment?
If the current on-campus employment opportunity has transitioned to remote work or the employment can be done through remote means, students may continue to engage in on-campus employment remotely. Schools should be able to explain how the students are providing services associated with the employment while not at the location of the employer.
Can students engaged in OPT and (STEM) OPT extension work remotely when appropriate and permitted by the employer? If so, do they need to submit an updated Form I-983?
Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely if their employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means. Students participating in STEM OPT do not need to submit an updated Form I-983 to report remote work.
Can students with proper authorization participate in curricular practical training (CPT) while they are abroad?
Students may engage in CPT during their time abroad, provided they are: Enrolled in a program of study in which CPT is integral to the program of study; their DSO authorized CPT in advance of the CPT start date; and either the employer has an office outside the United States or the employer can assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives electronically.
Does time spent studying outside of the United States during the COVID-19 emergency count toward the one-year requirement for CPT and OPT?
An F-1 student accrues eligibility for practical training whether they are inside or outside of the United States during the COVID-19 emergency if the student is in Active status in SEVIS and meets the requirements of their school’s procedural change plans submitted to SEVP.
Colleges that moved to online courses have allowed students to travel to their home country to complete their studies. Will this international travel alter the student’s OPT/CPT and social security number (SSN) status?
DHS is evaluating these issues and may issue additional guidance. In the meantime, since USCIS adjudicates OPT employment authorization requests, SEVP recommends reaching out to USCIS for further guidance. Students may engage in CPT during their time abroad, provided they are enrolled in a program of study of which the CPT is an integral component, the DSO has authorized the CPT in advance, and either the employer has an office outside the United States or the employer has a means to assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives.
Due to COVID-19, what is SEVP’s advice to students who want to apply for OPT? Is there any chance that students would be able to apply for post-completion OPT from outside the United States?
DHS is evaluating these issues and may issue additional guidance. In the meantime, since USCIS adjudicates OPT employment authorization requests, SEVP recommends reaching out to USCIS for further guidance.
Can students apply for OPT while outside of the United States by filing a Form I765, “Application for Employment Authorization,” from abroad?
SEVP understands stakeholder concerns about the need for guidance. As the COVID19 emergency continues, the program will continue to develop guidance on significant issues and publish it at ICE.gov/Coronavirus. SEVP is collaborating with interagency components on these issues, including USCIS, CBP and the Department of State. The request presented in this question is primarily for consideration by USCIS, which adjudicates Forms I-765. SEVP is willing to cooperate in implementing such procedures so long as they are reviewed and approved as part of the DHS response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Must students cease engaging in OPT if they are now working fewer than 20 hours a week due to the economic impacts of COVID-19?
For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT.
Should DSOs with students on OPT update the students’ employer addresses in SEVIS with their remote work address? For students participating in the STEM extension, do their Forms I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students,” need to be updated with their remote work address?
No. DSOs should not update the employer address information in SEVIS nor on the Form I-983 for students working remotely.
Will there be an extension or suspension of the 90-day/150-day allowed period of unemployment for OPT and STEM OPT during the COVID-19 emergency?
Homeland Security Investigations National Security Investigations Division Student and Exchange Visitor Program Last updated: 7/15/2020 8:55 AM 12 DHS is evaluating this issue but has not yet determined whether to implement a specific exemption for exceeding the regulatory limits for unemployment of 90 days for OPT and 150 days for STEM OPT.
Do F-1 students need employment authorization to volunteer as part of COVID-19 relief efforts?
No, F-1 students who work without wages, taxable compensation or other remuneration are considered volunteers and are not required to obtain an employment authorization document.
Will F-1 students be able to return to the United States if they are continuing their studies outside of the country as a result of COVID-19?
Students who continue to make normal progress in their course of study remain eligible for admission into the United States. However, because of the changing array of travel restrictions, students should refer to their local embassy’s website through the U.S. Department of State for any updates about visa issuance. Also, DHS and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) websites provide information about current travel restrictions to the United States.
Is there a time frame for when students are expected to return to the United States once the COVID-19 emergency is over and schools have resumed normal operations?
Dependent on their school’s return to normal operations and any continuing travel restrictions, students should seek to return to the United States within 30 days of the next available session start date. SEVP also anticipates providing additional Homeland Security Investigations National Security Investigations Division Student and Exchange Visitor Program Last updated: 7/15/2020 8:55 AM 14 guidance after the COVID-19 emergency ends regarding a school’s return to normal operations.
If students remain in the United States due to COVID-19 and their passport expires, what do they need to do to renew it?
Students in this situation should contact their country’s embassy or consulate to identify options for passport extension or renewal. If students decide to depart the United States, they will not be eligible to apply for admission until they renew their passport.
Is there any flexibility in extending grace periods for students who have been unable to depart the United States after completing their programs due to travel restrictions? Will there be any changes to SEVIS to allow for such extensions?
This is a complex issue that SEVP is addressing within the larger context of the DHS response to the COVID-19 emergency. Amending SEVIS database functionality is a complex undertaking and would have to be prioritized among the many other scheduled improvements that SEVP is making to the system to enhance efficiency and functionality.
What should students do if they need to return home within 60 days after completing their program of study, but their travel plans are complicated by a lack of commercially available flights or their country currently prohibits all inbound travel?
SEVP recognizes that some students may find it difficult to return home during the COVID-19 emergency because of diminished travel options. Students in this situation are encouraged to communicate with their DSO for guidance and to assess options for alternative study arrangements such as online classes during this time. DSOs should document in the student’s record any material information related to a student’s inability to leave the country due to COVID-19.
If you would like to make an appointment to speak with Patti Lausch see details of her office hours below.
Wednesdays 9:30AM - 11AM EST
All appointments to be made via GPS. Instructions can be found here.