f1 visa sevp fall 2020 5 months remote hybrid learning classes
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FAQ’s Published by ICE for F1, M1 Visa – Clarity Required for SEVIS Record Status

Today (July 7, 2020), ICE published FAQs to clarify further the New Proposed Changes for F1 and M1 Students for Fall 2020 Semester.

  • Update – July 8, 2020 – 10:40 AM  – There is confusion among DSO about SEVIS Record Termination – Can a student’s outside the USA for more than 5 months keep their record active? Some agree and some disagree.

Here’s the quick summary of what’s in the New SEVP Changes Published by ICE for students attending In-Person, Online Only and Hybrid Classes

  • Option 1: Schools are 100% Online
    • Transfer to Another school that offers in-person classes (OR)
    • Leave the Country (for Fall 2020 Semester)
    • Can Attend College from outside the US
  • Option 2 – Schools are Operating with In-Person Classes
    • No Changes
  • Option 3 – Schools Operating in Hybrid Model
    • Students can Take More than One Online Class.
    • At least One In-Person Class is Mandatory.
    • Schools may have to issue New I-20 that program is not 100% Online.
    • Can’t Attend College Remotely 

Since yesterday’s announcement, ICE published FAQs today.

Here’s what posted under Maintenance of Status section of FAQs (posted on July 7, 2020)

Frequently Asked Questions for SEVP Stakeholders about Guidance for the Fall 2020 Semester

2. Can continuing F and M students study online outside the United States and remain in Active status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)? Are designated school officials (DSOs) responsible for maintaining these records?

Yes, continuing F and M students may remain in Active SEVIS status while studying online, outside the United States. As these students remain Active in SEVIS, DSOs are responsible for maintaining these student records.

As per the original announcement about F1 Visa Fall 2020 changes (yesterday’s announcement), which seems to indicate you have to pick one of three options.

In other words, the original message looked like the SEVIS record of hybrid schools continuing students stuck abroad would have to be terminated.

Some DSO think SEVIS should be terminated while others think it can stay active if students take the online courses from outside the USA. 

If SEVIS is Terminated: 

Continuing F-1 students outside the United States may enroll in online classes from outside the U.S. to continue your studies. It appears that you will need to complete an Authorized Early Withdrawal for immigration purposes and have your SEVIS/I-20 record suspended for the time you’re outside the U.S.  Ideally we will able to request the record’s reactivation for a later return (within 5 months).  This is a common scenario for students who need to take a leave of absence and is nothing to worry about.  It is also possible that you will have to get a new SEVIS record, new I-20, and pay a new SEVIS fee, in order to return, but we can help you through this process.  This is one of the questions we are trying to get clarification on. (from University of Northern Colorado Email Announcement).

Receiving a new initial I-20 means that you will be required to

  • Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee again ($350)
  • Your eligibility clock for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) would be reset.
  • You would need to be enrolled for a full academic year (a fall and a spring semester) before you would be eligible for CPT or OPT.

If SEVIS Remains Active:

Then students can return without visa stamping. OPT and CPT Clock will not be reset! 

As per this FAQ, that’s not the case. You can leave the country, study 100% remotely, and can enter the USA even after spending 5+ Months (Aug 2020 to Jan 2021).

This clarity was not provided in yesterday’s announcement.

But, if your School is 100% Online for Fall 2020, you would have to leave the country or transfer to another university, unless the school decides to offer In-Person Class.

I’m waiting for clarity on this one specific question –

  • Will SEVIS remain active for students, if students are taking 100% Online Courses from Outside the USA?


You have to wait for an announcement from your DSO.

It will take a while to get clarity on these statements and faqs. Please be patient until then.

I’m publishing this update so you can understand what’s going on.

Scenario to Consider:

What if the school givs an option – Both Hybrid and Remote is offered. Can the student decide to go outside the USA and study remotely and return back?  Can they maintain the SEVIS Record?

The answer is Yes.

From today’s webinar, there was one student who is planning to fly to India in 2 days (July 9), since the school has declared 100% online. In this student’s case:

  • She could spend more than five months in India and study remotely.
  • She could maintain the SEVIS Record.
  • She can travel back for the next semester without attending a visa interview again.

2. What About Applying for OPT from Outside the USA?

I was chatting with a DSO about this today.  Here’s what he had to say about applying for OPT from outside the USA:

“As far as OPT is concerned- we have been issuing I-20s for those students but we just let them know it may be denied. But, so far we have had only approvals.”

So, students in the last semester may have to watch out for this 100% remote only option. There is NO official guidance from USCIS on this topic. 

Here’s a statement from Murthy.com News Update:

If a student has to depart or remain outside of the U.S. and take classes from abroad because their school offers online learning only, and they graduate in December 2020, will they be able to apply for OPT? The broadcast message does not deal with this question, either.

Register for Webinars & Updates:

  • I will be hosting Live Webinars (with DSO and Attorneys)
  • I will be sending updates when there is clarity.
  • Do you want to be the first to know and attend Zoom directly?
  • Register Here to Get Notified

Now, let’s move to the other questions. Here are some scenarios that are specific to many F1 Visa students.

  • I’m in my last semester can I take just one online course.
  • I’m doing Independent Study on F1 Visa.
  • I’m doing a Ph.D. and Research with no in-person classes planned.
  • I’m in Medical Schools, does Clinical Rotations be impacted?

I think the following section of the FAQ gives guidance for the above scenarios for F1 Visa Students for the Fall 2020 semester.

2. Does the fall 2020 guidance apply to schools generally or programs specifically? How should schools report information if certain university components are fully online while others are hybrid (e.g., a university’s medical school is hybrid while a business school is fully online)?

Reporting, generally, applies to a school. However, when a school’s instructional methodology varies by either a program designation or degree or by an instructional site, the school should indicate the differences.

What does this mean?

So, your scenarios could be treated differently as per the above statement depending on which school you will fall under and how your program will be structured.

This will a lot of work for DSO’s in large schools when they have to deal with 100’s if not 1000’s of unique cases.

As I mentioned before, even though we don’t have 100% clarity, we still made progress in bridging the information gap from yesterday’s announcement about changes to F1 and M1 students Fall 2020 semester guidelines.

Summary About F1 Visa SEVP FAQ:

  • Good News: SEVIS Record will be Active & Students can Return.
  • Bad News: 100% Online Schools mean, students may have to leave or transfer.
  • DSO’s are working hard to understand and get more clarity
  • Some information is still better than nothing, and we made good progress today.
  • I will be hosting Live Webinars as we learn more. Register to attend.

Register for Webinars & Updates:

  • I will be hosting Live Webinars (with DSO and Attorneys)
  • I will be sending updates when there is clarity.
  • Do you want to be the first to know and attend Zoom directly?
  • Register Here to Get Notified


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  1. Hi,
    Thanks for the nice explanation. I have a question. I came back to my home country in December 2019 in order to renew my F-1 visa. Unfortunately my visa application is under administrative processing since February 03, 2020. I’m outside the USA for more than five months. Till now, my F-1 status is active due to COVID exemptions but may be my SEVIS will be terminated before Fall 2020 semester, as per my DSO. I was wondering if my visa is approved this year, do need to apply for visa again? How it works in my case. I would be really grateful if you answer my question. Thanks.

    1. Can you send the link of the FAQs? I only found old ones here at ice.gov/doclib/coronavirus/covid19faq.pdf

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