On July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued a statement in the form of a “Broadcast Message” that would restrict continuing international students in F-1 status to take an entire full course of learning mode online. The same announcement stated that such students must leave the country or find alternative steps to maintain their international student immigration status such as transferring to a school that was not fully on-line. However, after receiving huge legal opposition from the higher education community and lawsuits from several states, including New York, SEVP rescinded the Broadcast, making it obsolete, and removed it from their website. By rescinding the new and worrisome guidance, SEVP clearly stated that they will revert back to their original Spring 2020 guidance published in March 2020.
The March 2020 guidance lifted the regulatory restrictions on on-line/ distance education and temporarily permitted international students in F-1 immigration status to take more online classes towards a full course of study in excess of the regulatory limits stated in 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(m)(9)(v). Without the March 2020 guidance, most of CUNY’s international students (and from all US higher education institutions) would have lost their immigration statuses. However, the March 2020 guidance is applicable to only F-1 students who were in the United States and enrolled in a course of study on March 9, 2020.
The intent behind the guidance was to protect the F-1 international students who were already in the United States from the Covid-19 crises. Hence, the protections did not extend to newly admitted international students who are yet to begin their course of study. However, it protected continuing students who opted to return to their home countries due to the crises and continue their studies from abroad. Under the guidance, F-1 students can enroll in online classes while outside the United States and the campus Designated School Officials should make an annotation on the student’s I- 20 Certificate of Eligibility indicating that the student is maintaining a full course of study online from overseas, therefore, maintaining valid F-1 immigration status.
As for newly admitted students whose records are in initial status in SEVIS, the March 2020 guidance stated that those students “in new or initial status after March 9, 2020, will not be able to enter the United States 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 percent online.”
CUNY’s Council of International Student Advisors (COISA) is monitoring this fluid and unpredictable situation very closely, and, is assuring that all the schools and advisors are up to date with all the rapid changes and well prepared and equipped to assist and counsel our international students through this difficult period.