Update Regarding SEVP rule changes affecting international students on F-1 Visas

UPDATE: July 28, 2020

The USCIS policy letter was just released and it specifies the conditions under which new international students will be denied a visa to enter the US. Briefly,

  1. The rule only applies to new international students (undergraduate and graduate) who are seeking an F-1 Visa to enter the US to study.
  2. The ruling does not apply to current/ongoing University of Utah international students in the country with an existing F-1 visa.
  3. The rule does not apply to international students who are already in the country at another US institution and will transfer to the University of Utah for Fall semester 2020.
  4. The rule applies only if the University (or intended program of study at a hybrid university)  will only offer online classes to the student during Fall 2020.  Because the University of Utah will be offering in-person, hybrid, and online classes this fall, new international students will only be affected if they are registered for online classes only for Fall Semester 2020.
  5. If a student enrolls in at least one hybrid or in-person class for fall semester (ISSS recommends 3 credit hours), then the student will be granted the F-1 visa.
  6. If mid-semester the University suddenly needs to change to all-online classes due to COVID-19 restrictions, new students who are in the country with valid F-1 visas will not be affected. They will be considered ongoing students and will be able to complete their Fal 2020 studies fully online, if necessary.

Consequently, please review your class enrollment for your new international graduate stduents, and ensure they are enrolled for at least on in-person or hybrid class for Fall 2020. This applies to both new international undergraduate and new international graduate stduents who will be applying for an F-1 visa to study at the University of Utah for Fall 2020 semester.

Some departments have Teaching proficiency courses that graduate students can register for while they are TAs; if these courses are in person or hybrid, this would count. Please be advised that graduate students on a TA, GT, GR, RA, etc who are unable to obtain a visa and travel to the US will not be able to register for a social security number, which is necessary for receiving a stipend and tuition benefits. Consequently, if a new student is not able to travel to the US and take all of their classes online, they will be responsible for paying full non-resident tuition for Fall 2020.

International Student Services and the Graduate School are monitoring this situation carefully and are your primary resource for questions regarding this issue. The Graduate school will post guidance regarding this issue on its website (gradschool.utah.edu). You can also find very detailed visa guidance on this issue at the ISSS website: isss.utah.edu

UPDATE July 14, 2020

The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) has agreed to rescind the guidance released on July 6 barring M-1 and F-1 students from attending fully remote programs this fall, else they risk deportation. Federal Judge Burroughs announced during today’s hearing (Harvard & MIT vs. DHS) that the parties had come to an agreement and that the July 6 guidance and July 7 FAQ documents are to be rescinded and revert back to “status quo”- whether that means reverting back to the March guidance granting temporary flexibility for international students taking online courses for Spring and Summer semesters is not explicitly clear at this point, but we will keep you apprised as more information becomes available.

July 6, 2020

Dear Graduate School Community-

On July 6, 2020, USCIS announced unanticipated changes to the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) which has caused a great deal of concern and anxiety for our international students. During Spring and Summer semesters 2020, SEVP issued a temporary exception to the existing policy which restricted F-1 visa holders from taking no more than one online course per semester of up to three credit hours. Under the temporary exemption, International students were allowed to take all courses online, in response to the need for many Universities and Colleges to halt the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

The July 6, 2020 SEVP guidelines have substantially scaled back the previous temporary exemption to the previous policies prohibiting international students on F-1 visas from taking fully online classes during Fall 2020. Students taking completely online classes during Fall 2020 will need to depart the US and will be allowed to take these classes online in their home country. Students attending in-person program delivery will again be restricted to one online class per semester, as per previous policy. The Fall 2020 guidelines also create a new option for program delivery, called hybrid, which allows international students to remain in the U.S. and take more than one online class per semester, as long as the student is enrolled in at least one in-person class. International Student services (ISSS) has developed a comprehensive guide for students and faculty detailing the implications of the new SEVP rules.

As Dean of the Graduate School, I share the concerns about this situation that has been brought to me. The Graduate School has been working with ISSS and senior administration to develop options to allow international students to remain in the country and continue their studies during Fall 2020. We have confirmed that registration for 3 credit hours of dissertation research (with proper documentation) will be sufficient for most international graduate students to retain their F-1 visa status. For graduate students who have not yet begun their dissertation research, individual departments are working to make one in-person section of core graduate courses in each program available through a hybrid or in person option, satisfying the SEVP requirements.

We believe that we will be able to accommodate the success, health, and U.S. residency of international graduate student who wish to continue their studies in Salt Lake City during Fall 2020.

We have been in contact with Directors of Graduate Students across campus as the additional details of the SEVP rule become clarified in the coming days. We will continue to update the Graduate School web page and the DoGS with more information and guidance as it arises.

Your concerns and questions are important to us, and we are here to help. We want to work collaboratively with you to solve any specific problems that may arise from this sudden change.  Please feel free to reach out to the Graduate School at info@gradschool.utah.edu, or to me personally at dean@gradschool.utah.edu. We are part of your  ongoing support network, and together we will successfully navigate these choppy waters.

With Warmest Regards

Dave Kieda
Dean, The Graduate School

University of Utah ISSS resource page with FAQs for the Fall 2020 SEVP rule change https://isss.utah.edu/fall2020guidance.php

You may find the text of the July 6, 2020 rules change at https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/sevp-modifies-temporary-exemptions-nonimmigrant-students-taking-online-courses-during

You may also find the USCIS response to Frequently asked questions at https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/sevisFall2020_FAQ.pdf