Recently, there have been many changes to Immigration Policies in the United States as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Some announcements have been an emotional roller-coaster ride for the whole immigrant community at large comprising the International Students across the US.
For International Students, in March 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) made an exemption for international students attending schools that switched to online classes only amid the pandemic. Therefore, colleges and universities across the United States announced plans to offer online-only classes. This guidance allowed international students to remain in the U.S. under F-1 and M-1 visas even if they attend online-only classes. However, on July 6th, ICE pulled back this temporary exemption and announced a new policy prohibiting F-1 students from attending schools that had opted for 100% online courses this fall.
Soon after the announcement, on July 8th MIT and Harvard jointly filed suit against ICE and the US Department of Homeland Security to prevent enforcing new guidelines. To everyone’s surprise, the court hearing ended quickly with an announcement that a settlement had been reached and ICE would be canceling the July 6th policy and the frequently asked questions, the FAQs, that were released the next day on July 7. They also agreed to cancel any execution of the order. They will return to the status quo as established by the March 9, 2020 policy directive and the addendum issued on March 13, 2020. That means current international students in the U.S. can continue to take online classes in the fall if necessary due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Consequently, on July 15th, ICE published new guidance regarding how students can maintain F-1 status while courses are online: Details here: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/coronavirus/covid19faq.pdf
Considering the confusion around these government directives, we have summarized below facts to help outline what this means for different student groups.
Students who are outside the US for the fall semester: The new guidance appears to not allow new F-1 students who have not arrived in the US to travel to the US for 100% online programs. Instead, the guidance instructs new students outside the US to remain in their home country. These students may choose to attend the 100% online program remotely from their home country and remain active in the SEVIS system. If lack of technology resources or other issues make the student unable to participate in the online program, the student must work with the school DSO to keep the SEVIS record active and defer the program of study until in-person classes resume.
The new guidance allows F-1 students (both current and new) to study at in-person or hybrid programs in the US.
The new guidance allows current F-1 students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study more than the normal limits (i.e. they are continuing the policy announced in March 2020 for current F1students.
The new guidance seems to allow new F-1 students who have already arrived in the US and reported to their school to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study more than the normal limits. Current students who have questions about their schedules and/or which classes they need to take should be in touch with their academic advisors. Additionally, current students who cannot report to campus this fall should be in touch with their advisors and immigration services on campus to update them of the student’s plans.
The new guidance leaves some unanswered questions about OPT and CPT and indicates that DHS is still evaluating issues such as the 90/150 unemployment limit, hours reduced below 20 hours per week, applying for OPT from outside the US, etc.
The guidance confirms that CPT, OPT and STEM OPT employment can be remote work.
We will be updating this information to reflect any new information as it becomes available. Until then let’s come together to make the fall semester as efficient, safe and sound as possible.
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