Foreign Students Get Green Light to Continue Study Online

Federal guidance for international students enrolled in U.S. universities is likely to remain the same for Spring semester 2021 regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, an ICE spokesperson announced.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) federal guidance, issued in March 2020, allows international students with F or M student visas to take their courses online without jeopardizing their immigration status.

Normally, international students must be in the U.S. when studying to maintain the status of their student visas. Because of the pandemic, international students who were enrolled in March 2020 have been allowed to continue their studies online with U.S. institutions.

ICE has not released official COVID-19 guidance for the spring semester on their website, but international education organizations and institutions say the status will remain the same and that is what they are advising students.

If the international student guidance officially continues into the Spring 2021 semester, here’s what it may mean to current and prospective international students at U.S. higher education institutions.

What this means for existing students

Continuing international students who held valid nonimmigrant student visas on March 9, 2020 may continue to take their course load online whether inside the United States or abroad. These students will be able to maintain their immigration status as long as they enroll in a full course load.

Students who were actively enrolled at a U.S. university on March 9, 2020 but took online courses while outside of the United States may re-enter the U.S. even if their university has converted to a fully online model.

However, international students who were newly admitted after March 9, 2020 — mostly freshmen — may not take a full course load online and must take at least one in-person class.

What this means for new international students

Newly admitted international students for the Spring 2021 semester who are in the United States and hold valid student visas may enroll in 100% online courses as long as they do not leave before their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records are activated.

By Madeline Joung for VOA NEWS
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