With the COVID-19 emergency guidelines in place and the current Trump administration, it can be very difficult to keep up with the applicable immigration laws, the Department of Homeland security (DHS)’s notices and the Presidential Proclamations.
If you are an international student, you not only have to focus on your classes but also have to know whether the decisions you are taking to stay safe during this pandemic will affect your F or M status.
Below are some of the commonly asked questions with helpful answers for current or prospective F or M students.
- Is it allowable for an international student to take online classes during the Fall 2020 semester?
ICE has rescinded the proposed rule requiring international students to leave the United States if they are planning to take more than one class online during the Fall 2020 semester. Students will be considered to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study, even if it includes more than one online class.
- Under the current conditions, what should initial status students do?
If an initial student is already in the United States and reports to his or her school, their school should make their status active in SEVIS and apply the guidelines related to COVID-19 to all international students, including the initial students.
If the student is not in the United States yet, they may ask for deferment of their enrollment.
- Can an initial student enter the United States if their school is offering online-only course loads?
DHS seems to have taken the position that foreign students attending U.S. colleges would not be able to enter the country if their classes would be conducted entirely online during the fall of 2020. Thus, 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 nonimmigrant students for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online.
- How can an initial international student defer enrollment?
If an international student wants to defer his or her enrollment, they may ask their DSO to adjust their start date in SEVIS and issue a new Form I-20. This must be done before entry in the United States. An international student cannot defer enrollment while already in the United States.
- Can DSO electronically send signed Forms I-20 students instead of physically mailing the forms?
Yes, due to COVID-19, DSOs may electronically send Forms I-20 to student email addresses listed in SEVIS.
- Can students continue to engage in on-campus employment if they are being conducted remotely while campuses are closed?
Students may continue to engage in on-campus employment remotely if the current on-campus employment opportunity has transitioned to remote work or employment can be done through remote means.
- 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 has recognized 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.
- Can Student engaged in OPT and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) OPT extension work remotely when appropriate and permitted by the employer?
Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely if their employer has an office outside the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means. Students participating in STEM OPT do need to submit an updated Form I-983 to report remote work.
- Can a student 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 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 the means to assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives. This enrollment may be online.
- 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 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.
- 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?
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.
- Can F and M students who were previously employed and are now unemployed due to COVID-19 apply for unemployment benefits?
Students who are unemployed due to COVID-19 should contact their local or state employment agency for more information.
If a student is on OPT or STEM OPT, he or she should pay attention to the 90-day/150-day limit for unemployment even if they are receiving unemployment benefits. DHS has not yet issued an exemption for this rule.
During these uncertain times, it is advisable to always seek immigration counsel if you are concerned about your status in the United States. Reach out to our attorneys at firstname.lastname@example.org and Partner email@example.com for helpful legal advice.