On July 24, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that nonimmigrant students and schools certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) should abide by SEVP guidance originally issued in March 2020, which allows some distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19.
Per the March 2020 guidance, nonimmigrant students pursuing studies in the United States for the fall 2020 school term may remain in the United States even if their educational institution switches to a hybrid program or to fully online instruction. The students will maintain their nonimmigrant status in this scenario and would not be subject to initiation of removal proceedings based on their online studies.
However, in accordance with the March 2020 guidance, nonimmigrant students in new or initial status after March 9 will not be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online.
Students who do satisfy SEVP requirements as reflected on the DHS form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility) and in SEVIS may qualify for student visas.
International students must still obtain the appropriate visa before traveling to the U.S., and may still be subject to visa processing and travel restrictions due to COVID-19. Students should check with the Information Service for China website (https://www.ustraveldocs.com/cn/) for the latest information on visa processing. Routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments are currently suspended throughout Mission China. We will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.
We recognize the serious challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has posed to universities and students alike, and we hope that many international students who had planned to study this fall in the United States will still be able to do so.
For more information, please see:
Travel.State.Gov’s “SEVP Online Course Guidance for F and M Students for Fall 2020”: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/sevp-online-course-guidance-for-f-and-m-students-for-fall-2020.html
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) “Guidance on COVID-19” page under the “Nonimmigrant Students and SEVP-certified Schools” header, which has a FAQ with clarifying questions for Fall 2020: https://www.ice.gov/coronavirus
U.S. Visa Information Service for China website: https://www.ustraveldocs.com/cn/
U.S. Embassy & Consulates in China Visas page: https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/visas/