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International students will not be able to study online-only and remain in the US, starting this fall

The US announces an unfriendly modification to their Student Exchange and Visitor Program.
BY Skendha Singh |   09-07-2020

An expensive proposition
An expensive proposition

Even as universities like Harvard plan to bring 40% of their undergraduates, including all freshers, to their Massachusetts campus, and Princeton plans to allow freshers and sophomores on campus for the fall semester, the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) has made an important announcement for international students who have transitioned their course load to online delivery models.

The US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has announced that it will not allow international students studying online-only due to the pandemic to remain in the United States. Due to COVID-19, the Student Exchange and Visitor Program had allowed a temporary exemption on online courses for the spring and summer semesters.

This will further complicate the current scenario where several universities like Tufts, Duke and Northwestern are still working on re-opening plans this fall.

However, given the Trump administration’s narrow view of international students this announcement has hardly come as a surprise.

Here are key details:

  1. If a student’s entire course load is online – they will not be allowed to remain in the US.
     
  2. The Department of State will not issue visas to international students whose classes are online-only. And they will not be permitted to enter the US.
     
  3. To avoid legal deportation and other severe consequences, international students are advised to transfer to schools offering in-person instruction.
     
  4. Eligible international students enrolled in schools operating normally (with in-person instruction) can take a maximum of 1 class or 3 credit hours online.
     
  5. Eligible international students in schools offering a hybrid model of instruction can take more than 1 class or 3 credit hours online. The concerned schools will have to certify the same to SEVP through the I-20 form.

    These exemptions do not apply to students to F-1 students studying English language training and M-1 students enrolled in vocational programs.
     
  6. If schools begin the fall semester with in-person classes, and are required to change to online delivery, they must inform SEVP within 10 days of the change. Similarly, if an international student switches his or her module, thus transitioning an entire course to online – the school will be required to inform the SEVP.
     
  7. International students who find that their course load is completely online during the fall semester must leave the country. They can also take alternative steps such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave to maintain F-1 status.

Given the impact that the pandemic has already had on the prospective international students, particularly for the US, such hardliner policies are unlikely to help. The government needs to consider their own universities which are currently losing millions.

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