By Louanni Cesário and Victor Braga
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the travel bans and the reduced operations of embassies and consulates around the world. Urges to highlight the main SEVP guidance that is currently in effect:
- Despite the legislation restrictions of online classes for both F and M students, the current guidance allows a temporary exception in that matter for those who were actively enrolled at a U.S. school on or before March 9, 2020. The temporary exception applies to those whom (i) are in Active SEVIS status on or before March 9, 2020, (ii) have remained in the United States in active status starting a new program of study, and (iii) are enrolled in fully online classes inside or outside the U.S. Only one of the mentioned criteria is required to benefit the student from the exception.
- Both F and M students who are outside the U.S. and whose initial status (i-20) is scheduled to start after March 9, 2020, will not be allowed into the United States for fully online courses. However, approved hybrid program (a program of study which has both in-person and online activities) are allowed.
- Students on CPT and OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely while inside or outside the United States and they will be inspected by their employer through electronic means.
If you are currently under a student status in the United States you must be aware of the following:
- School officials must have submitted a procedural change plan to SEVP detailing the school’s alternative procedures due to the pandemic.
- Students should abide by the institution’s pandemic-related alternative procedures while in place.
- Form I-20 should contain the language: “Outside the United States due to COVID-19” if the student is outside of the U.S.
It is also important to highlight the challenges ahead of us as this global crisis continues:
- It is unclear whether students who are physically present in the US but who were not actively enrolled at a U.S. school as of March 9, 2020 can engage in a course of study that is 100% online.
- For students currently on OPT or STEM OPT, the 90-day/150-day allowable periods of unemployment continue to remain in effect.
- Considering Form I-765 can only be filed while the student is in U.S. soil, students who are in their final year and cannot return to the U.S. may lose the opportunity to apply for post-completion Training (OPT).
Some possible solutions regarding the SEVP current regimen, however, can be pointed:
- Once the Department of State has labeled student visas a “high priority,” it may be possible for students who have urgent travel needs to obtain approval. Checking the embassy’s or consulate’s website about its current situation of visa processing is highly recommended.
- Consular officers are authorized to waive the in-person interview requirement for those applying for a nonimmigrant visa in the same classification, students who need to renew F or M visas for example.
Finally, it is relevant to mention that many accommodations have been made, solutions are being implemented, and vaccines are a reality, and therefore, we may have hope to soon see better days for students.
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