SEVP new visa guidance for foreign students regarding online courses

Published on: Aug 09, 2020, Last Edited: Aug 09, 2020 | Tags: Travel Restrictions, COVID-19

In its attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Trump administration has made numerous changes to its immigration and visa policy. Following recent changes to visa regulations for international students taking courses this fall that are now available only online, the SEVP (the Student and Exchange Visitor Program) has issued new guidelines.

The Trump administration had previously banned non-immigrant students with F-1 and M-1 visas from studying courses in which all classes were online only. On July 14, 2020, the administration rescinded the ban, and it now applies only to specific categories of new students.

Key points from the SEVP guidelines for foreign students in the US

Will F-1 and M-1 students outside the U.S. be granted a student visa if their fall 2020 study program is entirely online?

ICE states that the Department of State determines individual eligibility criteria for F and M student visas. New non-immigrant students will be unlikely to obtain an M-1 or F0-1 visa to study in the US if their chosen course of study is now completely online.

If an international student had enrolled in a US study program in the USA by March 9, 2020, but later left the United States, they are most likely to be still eligible for a student visa. In March 202, the policy allowed students to enroll in online courses, whether from within the US or their home country, provided they comply with the other terms of their non-immigrant visa.

How does the change in policy affect students studying hybrid study programs?

For the 2020 fall term, international students with M- 1 or F- 1 visas enrolling in a program of study that includes both physical and online classes will be able to maintain their non-immigrant status. Those with initial or new status later than March 9, 2020, will be unable to enter the US to enroll in a study program of which 100% of the classes are online. Students with active status who have remained in the United States may continue to do so.

Schools certified with SEVP with students on non-immigrant visas and who have not yet filed their changed schedules should submit them as soon as possible. Their procedural change plans should outline any changes to their existing programs caused by COVID-19.

Are there any exceptions to the COVID-19 travel bans?

Travel bans relating to the coronavirus pandemic are still in place for many countries several regions. However, according to Department of State guidelines released on July 22, 2020, some international students may be able to travel to the U.S. A student traveling from the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Schengen area with a Valid m-1 or F-1 visa will be able to enter the U.S. without needing to contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country of origin to apply for a national interest exception. If they are applying for a new student visa, they should check the latest guidance at the relevant embassy or consulate. If they are oherwide found to be eligible to travel on an M-1 or F-1 visa, they will be considered for the national interest exception to travel.

Immigrant medical exams extended for one month

The validity of a medical exam for a United States immigrant visa is generally limited to 6 months. In an announcement on July 24, 2020, The Department of State announced that the CDDCP (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) had approved an extension of one month for all medical exams performed between January 1 and June 30, 2020. Anyone who could not travel with the visa they had been issued, or who had obtained a medical certificate but had not received a visa, is advised to get in touch with the relevant US consulate or embassy. They will determine whether their visa is eligible for the one-month extension. People who are unable to travel to the US with the extension period should consider waiting and obtaining a new medical exam and visa.

Guidance for visitors to USCIS facilities during COVID-19

USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) has announced new guidelines re COVID-19 for people visiting its facilities.

Social distancing must be maintained. Until further notice, all petitioners, applicants, and people over the age of two years must wear a face mask or other covering in USCIS offices. Restrictions are also in place regarding who can attend naturalization ceremonies, as well as those accompanying petitioners and applicants to their appointments.

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