As of March 16th, nearly 300 U.S. universities have made plans to replace in-person classes with remote instruction amidst mounting public health concerns. These closures will affect hundreds of thousands of students nationwide, perhaps none so much as F-1 student visa holders. Every student receiving remote instruction due to COVID-19 will have to adjust to these changes, and F-1 visa holders will have to help document these changes and apply for approval with SEVP.
Foreign students who study (and in some cases work) in the U.S., as authorized by their F-1 student visas, should be aware of the impact that a fully remote semester will have on their status. According to a Broadcast Message from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), the body that oversees the F-1 visa program:
In all cases, schools and students should document any decisions made and be able provide this information to SEVP upon request. Similarly, changes to workplace requirements may impact nonimmigrant students engaging in practical training. SEVP encourages such students to consult with their employer to seek alternative ways to maintain employment, such as teleworking or other arrangements.
The message contains specific instructions for the reporting that is required of SEVP-certified schools that plan to go fully remote, exercise temporary closures, or implement any other change of major consequence for the F-1 student body. SEVP’s guidelines require early, open communication between F-1 students and SEVP program administrators, and they are best executed through the combined efforts of students, administrators, faculty, and attorneys.
In addition to communicating about these new reporting guidelines, graduating F-1 students who have yet to request OPT may want to discuss this option with their SEVP advisors, and if possible with legal counsel. We advise F-1 students to follow the instructions that they are receiving from their respective schools, but we strongly recommend that they apply for OPT and file their I-765 Applications as soon as possible and remain in the U.S. until the EAD is received. Thereafter, an F-1 student who has graduated may be readmitted to the U.S. if they have in hand the EAD, a valid passport and I-20, and a letter confirming employment.