Editor's note: On July 14, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreed to rescind the July 6 Broadcast Message Number 2007-01: COVID-19 and Fall 2020. Read the full notice.

 

COVID-19 has made semester planning particularly difficult for international students because of travel restrictions and border closures. To the list of travel variables, international students must now add recent immigration policy changes announced by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on July 6.

To clarify the impact of the policy modifications on Virginia Tech’s international students specifically, Cranwell International Center hosted a town hall discussion on July 13.

“I want you to know that Cranwell International Center, and the entire university, are more committed than ever to serve you and support you during these challenging times," said David Clubb, director of the center during the online meeting, which is available below.

International students and parents submitted dozens of questions in advance, many of which requested clarification as to which courses count as in-person instruction and what steps are necessary to maintain immigration status.

Below are five key take-aways from the town hall:

1) International students who are not physically present in the U.S. are not considered to be in F-1 nonimmigrant visa status and are, therefore, not subject to the new policy that restricts online enrollment. Students outside the U.S. have always had the ability to enroll solely online (with few exceptions for countries subject to comprehensive U.S. sanctions), and this is not changing. Students will need to work with their academic advisor and/or department regarding online options available to them from outside the U.S.

2) International students in F-1 nonimmigrant visa status who are physically present in the U.S. and enrolled at Virginia Tech for fall 2020 are not allowed to be enrolled 100 percent online. Students enrolled 100 percent online must either update their enrollment to include at least one in-person and/or hybrid course (see below) or leave the U.S. Students enrolled 100 percent online after the last day to add/drop on Aug. 28 will have their record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) terminated for failure to maintain status.

3) International students who are physically present in the U.S. and enrolled at Virginia Tech for fall 2020 must be enrolled full-time (12 credits for undergraduate students, nine credits for graduate students without an assistantship, and 12 credits for graduate students with an assistantship). This has always been required by federal regulations and did not change in the spring semester either.

In addition, international students must be enrolled in at least one in-person or hybrid course. All other courses can be online. This is normally not allowed under federal regulations, but an exception is being made for fall 2020 semester.

To document compliance with these enrollment requirements, the university, through the Cranwell International Center must issue an updated Form I-20 to all international students in F-1 nonimmigrant visa status who are now, or will be, physically present in the U.S. and enrolled at Virginia Tech for fall 2020 semester. This must be done by no later than Aug. 4. The updated Form I-20 will contain the following annotation, as required by the July 6 immigration policy changes:

Issuance of this Form I-20 certifies that, for the fall 2020 semester, Virginia Tech will not be operating entirely online, that this student will not be taking an entirely online course load, and that this student will be taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.

To facilitate this process, Cranwell International Center has developed an online e-form through the university’s IntlHokies immigration services portal, which international students must complete to confirm their plans for the fall 2020 semester and attest to their compliance with the enrollment requirements referenced above. Cranwell International Center sent an email to all international students with instructions regarding how to access the e-form, along with other important information and instructions. The e-form needs to be submitted by no later than July 17 in order to allow sufficient time to process the thousands of updated Forms I-20 by the Aug. 4 deadline. The updated Form I-20 will be issued, signed, and sent to international students electronically.

4) International students who have applied for or are currently engaged in post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM Extension OPT are not subject to the modifications outlined in the SEVP/DHS announcement. There are no changes and no action is required.

5) International students who are currently engaged (or plan to be engaged fall semester) in Curricular Practical Training may or may not be affected by the modifications outlined in the SEVP/DHS announcement. Students should reach out to an International Student Advisor in Cranwell International Center to discuss your specific situation.

For more in-depth details, students should read this memo Impact of SEVP/DHS July 6 Policy Modifications on VT International Students.

If a student’s specific questions are not covered by the above resources, they should contact their international student advisor directly or email international@vt.edu.

In his closing remarks, Clubb said, “The university will continue to advocate vigorously and work relentlessly to support our international students. We are exploring a wide range of actions to sustain and further strengthen that level of support, so stay tuned for more updates in the coming days and weeks leading up to the start of the fall 2020 semester.”