US extends COVID guidance around online and hybrid programmes for 2022/23 academic year
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced earlier this month that its March 2020 guidance for F and M visa class students, and schools certified by SEVP will remain in effect for the 2022/23 academic year.
One of the key points in that original March 2020 guidance is that it allowed international students enrolled in the US as of 9 March 2020 to maintain their visa status and to be considered to be engaged in a full course of study even if they were studying fully online (and whether in the US or abroad). SEVP has caps in place otherwise that limit the amount of studies that students can complete online while still preserving their visa status.
An extended set of FAQs, last updated on 18 April 2022, provides more detailed guidance for students and counsellors around the SEVP policy in this area.
A new section of that FAQ file outlines “Clarifying Questions for the 2022/23 Academic Year”, notably with respect to the following.
- The March 2020 guidance applies primarily to continuing students who were enrolled in the US as of 9 March of that year, and who had a valid visa at that time. It explains that, “If a non-immigrant student was enrolled in a course of study in the United States on 9 March 2020, but subsequently left the country, that student remains eligible for a visa since the March 2020 guidance permitted a full online course of study from inside or outside the United States.”
- Continuing students are similarly permitted to remain in the US even if their programmes remain fully online: “Consistent with the March 2020 guidance, for the 2022/23 academic year non-immigrant students may remain in the United States to engage in a fully online program of study if they have not otherwise violated the terms of their non-immigrant status.”
- However, the updated SEVP guidance also cautions that, US institutions and schools “should not issue a Form I-20, ‘Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status,’ for a student in new or Initial status who is outside of the United States and plans to take classes at an SEVP-certified educational institution that is operating fully online. A new student may be issued a visa to study inside the United States if their program of study is a hybrid program with some in-person learning requirement.” In other words, new students cannot be issued an I-20 for programmes that remain fully online.