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THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE

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Fall 2020 International Student Visa Rules Revealed for Study in USA

If you’re hoping to gain a visa for study in the USA in fall 2020, new guidelines have been announced for schools responding to the Coronavirus pandemic

Published on July 7, 2020

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has unveiled new visa guidelines for international students looking to study in the US from fall 2020. The guidelines are intended to address issues faced by schools in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, particularly the ratio of online to in-person tuition available for students.

During the height of the pandemic, the SEVP introduced a temporary procedural adaptation which relaxed rules on the amount of online tuition international students were permitted to take. According to the SEVP, the relaxation allowed "students to take more online courses than normally allowed for the purposes of maintaining a full course of study to maintain their F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency".

These rules have been modified for fall 2020, with the US Department of Homeland Security expected to publish the final procedures in the near future. Among the important notes for international students planning to study in the US this year:

Student visas won't be issued for courses which take place fully online - The SEVP explain that "The US Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester". For students currently in the US whose school is planning an online only format, they must "depart the country" or make other arrangements, such as a "transfer to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status".

Students of schools operating normal in-person classes won't see a rule change - For students who are attending a school which is conducting in-person classes as normal, the previous visa rules apply, which state that "Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online".

Students of schools with a hybrid model, including in-person and online classes, will be given extra flexibility - Where a school is operating a hybrid system of tuition, involving a mixture of online and in-person classes, international students "will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online". Schools that are using such a system need to certify this arrangement with the SEVP, so if you or a family member is arranging international study in the US this fall, this is something to take note.

Although these rules have not yet been finalized, the SEVP has published the new regulations in advance to allow for schools to make necessary arrangements for compliance. Given international study is often planned in advance for the student as well, the announcement offers a useful insight into issues you and your family may need to be aware of if planning to obtain visas for study in the US from fall 2020.

For more information, go to www.ice.gov/news/releases/sevp-modifies-temporary-exemptions-nonimmigrant-students-taking-online-courses-during

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