This is a follow up to our March 28, 2020 blog entitled What Happens to My F-1 Visa Now That My University Has Closed Its Campus Due to Coronavirus?
Prior to the pandemic, international students had a customary limitation of only one online class allowed per semester. With the uncertainty that the pandemic has brought, the government made an exception for the Spring/Summer 2020 semesters, and allowed students on F-1 visas to shift to the online education model.
We were about to report that the online exception was ending, but lo and behold, in the last 48 hours the United States has done an about-face, and will now be allowing international students to remain in the country in the fall, even if their universities are remaining on an online-only model in the fall.
The Trump Administration is pressuring colleges and universities to reopen in-person classes. Many universities, such as Harvard, and the entire California State University system, have announced online-only instruction in the fall, while other colleges are scrambling to figure out how to manage in-person classes, pushed by a fear of losing significant funding if out-of-state and international students withdraw.
International students make up about 6% of college students in the U.S., and contribute around $41 billion to the U.S. economy. International students present a significant source of revenue for many universities across the nation. In Virginia, all international students pay out-of-state tuition which is much higher than in-state tuition rates.
On Wednesday, July 8, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sued the Trump Administration over the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) directive. The universities were seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction preventing the government from enforcing the directive, arguing, in part, that the decision was made by the Administration in order to pressure institutions to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A federal judge in Boston was set to hear arguments on the injunction Tuesday, July 14, but at the start of the hearing she announced that the parties (including the U.S. government) had come to a resolution, in which the U.S. agreed to back down and continue to allow international students to remain in the country - even if their university only holds classes virtually.
USCIS has since updated its Frequently Asked Questions page regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the SEVP program, although neither USCIS nor the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had issued a press release about the decision. More information will hopefully be provided soon.
While this Administration's retreat on its international student policy was very welcome, albeit quite surprising, it left some still wondering about how the various travel bans and shutdowns of visa services abroad will impact international students.
We will continue to update you as we learn more about this situation.
For more information check out the ICE Guidance on COVID-19 webpage for updates and answers on issues nonimmigrant students in the U.S. are dealing with. If you need the help of an immigration attorney, we are happy to offer telephonic and video-conferencing client meetings.