Virginia Tech is providing information and guidance to nearly 4,000 international students following Monday’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decision to modify temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes during the fall 2020 semester.

The announcement through the DHS’ Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) states that nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. The U.S. Department of State said it will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall 2020 semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.

Virginia Tech, through the Cranwell International Center, is actively engaging with the international student community to ensure they have the information and support necessary to navigate these changes.

“We are committed to our international students and their important role in Virginia Tech’s unique educational experience and growth as a global land-grant university,” said President Tim Sands. “Our hybrid instructional model will allow our international students to continue their studies and their important contributions to our campuses and communities. As we adapt to the changing COVID-19 environment, it is vital that Virginia Tech and our sister institutions have maximum flexibility to continue serving as the preferred destination for the world’s brightest minds.”

On June 15, Virginia Tech submitted to SEVP the university's updated operational plans for fall 2020. The plans detailed a mix of in-person, online, and hybrid courses across all academic colleges and programs. Virginia Tech further indicated — based on CDC guidelines as of early June and in consideration of the instructional space available on campus — its goal is for all university  students to experience at least one-third of instruction in an in-person format, with the remainder online through synchronous or asynchronous modes.

Virginia Tech’s fall 2020 course instruction plan falls under the hybrid model definition outlined by the SEVP, which states that students attending schools adopting a hybrid model – a mixture of online and in-person classes – will be permitted to take more than one class or three credit hours online. Students must certify to SEVP that they are not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester. The student must also show they are taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.

“During these difficult times, Cranwell International Center stands ready to serve and support the over 4,000 international students from over 100 countries who are creating invaluable cultural and intellectual diversity for the educational experience at Virginia Tech,” said David Clubb, director of Cranwell International Center. “They are essential to the development of global competence in all students, and we will do everything we can to ensure their ongoing presence and success.”

Clubb said it is important that international students remain in close contact with their international student advisors, as well as their academic advisors, and that they check their Virginia Tech email often so as to understand and to remain well-informed regarding ongoing changes and any actions they are required to take.

Virginia Tech international students in F-1 nonimmigrant visa status who are not physically present in the U.S. as of the last day to add/drop on Aug. 28 will have their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records terminated for “Authorized Early Withdrawal.” When they are ready to return to the U.S., they are encouraged to contact an international student advisor in Cranwell International Center to assist with the process.

To facilitate the required certifications and documentation, the Cranwell International Center has developed e-forms and resources that will be available the week of July 13 through IntlHokies – Virginia Tech’s online immigration services portal. The required forms on the portal relative to the SEVP decision will require students to attest and confirm that they are enrolled in at least one in-person or hybrid course for fall 2020 and they are taking the minimum number of online courses required to make normal progress in their degree program.

The SEVP/DHS modifications note that “if a school changes its operational stance mid-semester, and as a result, a nonimmigrant student switches to only online classes or a nonimmigrant student changes their course selections, and as a result, ends up taking an entirely online course load, schools are reminded that nonimmigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes … if nonimmigrant students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status, such as transfer to a school with in-person instruction.”

While the fall 2020 plan for Virginia Tech indicates that, with the exception of the eight instructional days after Thanksgiving break and final exams being conducted entirely online, the fall 2020 academic calendar has not been changed, this will not invoke the provisions of the SEVP/DHS modifications since our institutional operational approach will still be hybrid.

Cranwell International Center has developed a resource website with FAQs and contacts regarding the SEVP announcement and other important information. Students who have questions are asked to contact the Cranwell International Center as soon as possible at 540.231.6527 or international@vt.edu. Students can also schedule an online Zoom appointment.