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This article was prepared with the assistance of ABIL, the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, of which Loan Huynh, Fredrikson Immigration Department Chair, is a member.

According to reports, a spokesperson for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced that spring 2021 guidance related to the COVID-19 pandemic for international students in programs in "hybrid" or online modes will remain the same as before. "Nonimmigrant students should continue to abide by SEVP guidance originally issued in March 2020. The guidance enables schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19," said Carissa Cutrell, SEVP Public Affairs Officer.

The announcement followed a multi-association letter led by the American Council on Education (ACE) and signed by NAFSA: Association of International Educators and other higher education associations asking U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and SEVP for COVID-19 guidance for the spring term "as soon as possible," and to provide for "maximum flexibility." The letter said that currently, institutions and students are following the March guidance for F and M nonimmigrant students that was updated on August 7, 2020. The guidance allows international students on F and M visas to remain in the United States if their programs need to use an online-only instruction platform during the pandemic, the letter noted. "Unfortunately, the guidance does not allow new international students to travel to the United States to begin a program if that program is online only due to COVID-19, or allow institutions to issue a Form I-20 'Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status' for those new students," the letter said.

The letter cited a recent survey, by the Institute of International Education and nine partner higher education associations, that found a 43 percent drop in international student enrollment in U.S. institutions this semester. The survey also found that 99 percent of institutions are either holding classes online or implementing a hybrid model.


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