This document provides answers to frequently asked questions from Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) stakeholders about the impact of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID19) on SEVP-certified schools and F and M students. Note: SEVP continues to actively monitor COVID-19 and provide up-to-date information to stakeholders, including designated school officials (DSOs) and F and M students. Due to the fluid nature of this situation, the answers in this document may be subject to change. Refer to
ICE.gov/COVID19 for the most up-to-date version of this FAQ.
SOME SELECTED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
Maintaining student records
- Many F and M students may choose to travel home and complete the spring term remotely. Since they are still enrolled, do DSOs have to cancel their Forms I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” if they are taking classes outside of the United States? If their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records remain in Active status, will students be subject to the five-month rule?
Ans: Under current conditions, if an Active F student leaves the United States to complete the spring term online, their SEVIS record should remain in Active status and not be terminated. While the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, students deemed to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study. For that reason, the five-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(4) will not apply for students who remain in Active status.
SEVP will allow F and M students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study in excess of the limits stated in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v), even if they have left the United States and are taking the online classes elsewhere. This temporary provision is only in effect due to COVID-19 and only for schools that comply with the requirement to notify SEVP of any procedural changes within 10 business days.
10. Schools have extended their academic year by a certain number of days due to COVID-19. How should DSOs handle SEVIS records for these students and what should be done for students who already applied for optional practical training (OPT)?
Ans: Student academic calendars and SEVIS records should be consistent. Schools should keep an official record of its academic calendar adjustment to provide to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) if a request is made and as documentation for any appropriate changes in a student’s SEVIS record.
Regarding OPT applications, DHS is evaluating related issues and may issue additional guidance. In the meantime, since U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudicates OPT employment authorization requests, SEVP recommends reaching out to USCIS for further guidance.
11. If students cannot or will not return to school when in-person instruction resumes, should their records be terminated for authorized early withdrawal?
Once a school returns to normal operations, if students cannot or choose not to return to the United States to study, DSOs should terminate the records. Refer to the Terminate Student article in the SEVIS Help Hub on Study in the States for additional information.
2. Can students engaged in OPT and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) OPT extension work remotely when appropriate and permitted by the employer? If so, do they need to submit an updated Form I-983?
Ans: Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely if their employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means. Students participating in STEM OPT do not need to submit an updated Form I-983 to report remote work. However, requirements to submit an updated Form I-983 for other changes remain in effect. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(9)(ii) for additional information.
3. Can students with proper authorization participate in curricular practical
training (CPT) while they are abroad?
Ans: Students may engage in CPT during their time abroad, provided they are:
- Enrolled in a program of study in which CPT is integral to the program of study;
- Their DSO authorized CPT in advance of the CPT start date; and
- Either the employer has an office outside the United States or the employer can assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives electronically.
- As noted in SEVP’s March 13, 2020, COVID-19: Guidance for SEVP Stakeholders, this enrollment may be online. All other requirements at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i) still apply.
4. Does time spent studying outside of the United States during the COVID-19 emergency count toward the one-year requirement for CPT and OPT?
Ans: An F student accrues eligibility for practical training whether they are inside or outside of the United States during the COVID-19 emergency if the student is in Active status in SEVIS and meets the requirements of their school’s procedural change plans submitted to SEVP.
6. Due to COVID-19, what is SEVP’s advice to students who want to apply for OPT? Is there any chance that students would be able to apply for post-completion OPT from outside the United States?
Ans: DHS is evaluating these issues and may issue additional guidance. In the meantime, since USCIS adjudicates OPT employment authorization requests, SEVP recommends reaching out to USCIS for further guidance.
7. Can students apply for OPT while outside of the United States by filing a Form I765, “Application for Employment Authorization,” from abroad?
Ans: SEVP understands stakeholder concerns about the need for guidance. As the COVID19 emergency continues, the program will continue to develop guidance on significant issues and publish it at ICE.gov/Coronavirus. SEVP is collaborating with interagency components on these issues, including USCIS, CBP and the Department of State.
The request presented in this question is primarily for consideration by USCIS, which adjudicates Forms I-765. SEVP is willing to cooperate in implementing such procedures so long as they are reviewed and approved as part of the DHS response to the COVID-19 crisis.
8. Must students cease engaging in OPT if they are now working fewer than 20 hours a week due to the economic impacts of COVID-19?
Ans: For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT.
10. Will there be an extension or suspension of the 90-day/150-day allowed period of unemployment for OPT and STEM OPT during the COVID-19 emergency?
Ans: DHS is evaluating this issue but has not yet determined whether to implement a specific exemption for exceeding the regulatory limits for unemployment of 90 days for OPT and 150 days for STEM OPT.
11.Can F and M students who were previously employed and are now unemployed due to COVID-19 apply for unemployment benefits?
Ans: Students who are unemployed due to COVID-19 should contact their local or state employment agency for more information.
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Note: This is a blog post by Adhikari Law PLLC and should NOT be construed as a legal advice.