The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has further clarified fall 2020 guidance for F-1 international student enrollment and status maintenance in a document released today, July 24, 2020.
After rescinding guidance released in early July, DHS returned to the status quo of emergency COVID-19 guidance established in March and later updated on July 15. However, this document left certain questions unanswered, particularly, the immigration options for international students newly-admitted for the fall 2020 semester. UIC and universities around the country had been pressing DHS to clarify their position on new intial students and they have done so in today's release.
Below, please find key points from today's DHS release as it relates to UIC international students. It is important to note that UIC has adopted a hybrid model for the fall 2020 semester which places our community in a different position from universities which have adopted a fully online model for the fall.
- Eligibility for a U.S. visa (F-1 or other) is determined by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and not the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). While DHS and SEVP set the guidelines around issuance of Forms I-20 (which is a required document for the F-1 visa interview) ultimately it is the decision of a DOS official working at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad whether or not to grant a visa for entry to the U.S.
- DHS guidance will not allow academic institutions to issue new initial I-20s to newly-admitted students who will be studying an all online program for the fall 2020 semester either by direction from their academic institution or by personal choice.
- DHS guidance will allow academic institutions to issue new initial I-20s to newly-admitted students who would like to enter the U.S. in order to study a hybrid program of in-person, blended and online classes for the fall 2020 semester. Again, UIC had adopted a hybrid model for the fall 2020 semester.
- Continuing F-1 international students may remain in the U.S. for the fall 2020 semester even if they select an all online courseload either by direction from their academic institution or by personal choice.
- F-1 international students, new and continuing, may remain in the U.S. even if their academic institution transitions from a hybrid model to an all online model at a later date.
- Continuing F-1 international students who decide to continue their UIC programs fully online from outside the U.S. may maintain their nonimmigrant status but should have their SEVIS records updated to include the comment, "Outside the U.S. due to COVID-19."
The Office of International Services is actively working with continuing and new UIC international students to advise on their personal plans and update their records accordingly. Specifically, OIS will be sharing a visa support letter shortly with all international students which confirms that UIC has adopted a hybrid model of instruction for the fall 2020 semester. Our hope is that this letter will facilitate any upcoming visa application processes by explaining to DOS officials that in-person classes will be offered at UIC and that their physical presence in the U.S. is required. Additionally, OIS is surveying continuing international students to determine which students have decided to continue online studies from their home countries and therefore need the aforementioned comment added to their SEVIS records.
As always, the Office of International Services recognizes and appreciates our collective efforts in navigating this uncertain and challenging time. Feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com or +1 (312) 996-3121 with any questions or concerns about this announcement.