Department of State COVID-Related Guidance on Student Visas 

On March 9, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) instituted a temporary exemption regarding the online study policy for the 2020 spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted F and M students to take more online courses than normally allowed for purposes of maintaining a full course of study to maintain their F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency. 

Thereafter, on July 6, 2020, SEVP announced that international students could not take a full online course load from schools operating entirely online and remain in lawful F-1 status in the United States. On July 14, 2020, as a result of litigation, DHS agreed to fully rescind the July 6, 2020 ICE guidance, July 7, 2020 Frequently Asked Questions and all implementing guidance, leaving the March 2020 Guidance as the status quo. 

The current policy: Nonimmigrant students who were actively enrolled at a U.S. school on March 9, 2020 and are otherwise complying with the terms of their nonimmigrant status may comply with the March 2020 guidance and thereby be exempted to take online instruction. Nonimmigrant students in ‘new’ or ‘initial’ status after March 9 will not be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100% online. Additionally, designated school officials should not issue a Form I-20 to a nonimmigrant student in new or initial status who is outside of the U.S. and plans to take classes at an SEVP-certified educational institution fully online.

Contact Poarch Thompson Law if you have questions about how these policies affect your enrollment.

The Department of State issued recent Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that are available on their website at: DOS Guidance for Students 2020 (FAQs). Check for updates to this policy. Content of the FAQs current through August 11, 2020 is included below:

1. Do students at universities doing hybrid virtual / in person programs need to obtain a new I-20 form?

Student visa applicants should bring their latest I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility) issued by their university to their visa interview.  International students must obtain the appropriate visa before traveling, and may still be subject to visa processing and travel restrictions due to COVID-19.  Students should check with the local U.S. embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.

2. Do students who already have valid visas but are outside of the United States need a new visa before they attempt to travel to the United States?

No, students with valid visas do not need to apply for a new visa before traveling to the United States to resume their studies.  However, students may still be subject to travel restrictions due to COVID-19.  Students should check with the local U.S. embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.

3. Will a student enrolling for the first time in Fall 2020 (i.e. the student was not enrolled as of March 9, 2020) qualify for a student visa if their coursework is 100% online?

Only students who have a valid I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility) issued by their university may qualify for an F or M student visa.  Students and the schools that admit them should follow SEVP guidance.  For questions about compliance with SEVP guidance and SEVIS, we refer you to ICE.  Their website is here: https://www.ice.gov/coronavirus.

International students must obtain the appropriate visa before traveling, and may still be subject to visa processing and travel restrictions due to COVID-19.  Students should check with the local U.S. embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.

4. Is global visa processing still suspended? How will students make it to campus on time for the fall semester if visa services are suspended in so many locations?

U.S. embassies and consulates recently began a phased resumption of routine visa services.  The resumption of routine services is on a post-by-post basis, in accordance with the State Department’s Diplomacy Strong framework for safely returning our workforce to Department facilities. 

Student visas are a high priority, and we will make every effort to assist student visa applicants in a timely fashion, while keeping our staff and customers safe. 

Applicants with an urgent matter who need to travel immediately should follow the guidance provided on their nearest embassy or consulate’s website to request an emergency appointment.