Analysis of new SEVP guidelines for Fall 2020 semester

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For the international students in the US, and those who are planning to attend the Fall 2020 semester, Covid-19 has been a party pooper of epic proportions.

As soon as the pandemic hit the US harder than many would expect, and the unemployment numbers went through the roof, graduates/to-be-graduates of Fall 2020 started feeling the heat. 

Multiple media and financial institutions warned of the US economy crashing followed by a massive recession.

One scroll through the LinkedIn feed confirms the worst. It is filled with grim- sounding posts of people being served the pink slip owing to the ‘new normal’, and searching for new opportunities before their term in the US dries up.

To add to the international student dilemma, most of the Universities cancelled their on-campus classes and adopted the online model, which has a direct implication on the F-1 visa status.

But nothing is more rattling than the decision that arrived earlier today, which essentially asks the international students to leave the USA, if they wish to take online classes for Fall 2020 semester. 

Yep, you read that right! 

Pack your bags and leave. Period. 

So, wait! Is that it?

Is the American dream over?

Does that mean I cannot come back to the US once all of this is over?

Acha chalta hoon, duaon mein yaad rakhna?

And, how does the new SEVP guidelines impact the students who are planning to start their term in FALL 2020?

Should they go to the US this year, or defer it to other semesters?

Should they drop their abroad plan altogether, given such surgical strikes on international students by the US government? 

Time to answer those questions. Let’s look at some of the Interesting fallouts of this decision: 

But first, a closer look at The DECISION. According to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)

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 will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.

Source: ice.gov

 What does it mean?

Simply, that if you are planning to take the FALL 2020 semester FULLY online, you will have to leave the US. 

This decision directly impacts two sets of students:

  • International students currently in the USA and enrolling for Fall 2020 semester
  • Incoming international students for Fall 2020 semester, who were hoping to make it to the US in August. 

Who is exempted from this rule?

All those students starting in Fall 2020, who can opt for a HYBRID course model, which is a mix of online and in-person classes. 

As the second part of guidelines say:

Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online

What if my university does not offer a Hybrid model? 

In that case, there is an option to take reduced course load. What it essentially means is taking less number of courses for the upcoming Fall semester (which is usually not allowed). 

The following lines from the guidelines confirms the above:

If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.

I have an admit for the Fall 2020. How does the new guideline affect me?

If your University offers a 100% online course option, then you might have problems getting the F1 visa. 

If your University offers a Hybrid model, ask them about how you can take the required coursework and still maintain your F1 visa status. Mail your graduate advisors, shoot them a mail, and work out your options. 

However, the best way to avoid all the confusion is to DEFER the admit to either Spring/Fall 2021

Is it wise to DEFER?

Hell, YEAH!

In the current scenario, it is possibly the wisest thing to do. Right now, the situation in the US is extremely volatile. They are worst affected by Covid, have an upcoming election, a President who refuses to take things seriously, and acts like a 5-yr old in a candy shop.

The Universities came up with plans to accommodate the international students by offering online courses, but today’s one-size-fits-all order is coercing them to offer in-person classes. In such a confusing state of affairs, the best you can do is to wait it out and DEFER your admit to the next Spring or Fall. 

What should I do next?

If you are in the US and enrolled for Fall 2020 semester:

  • Talk to your Graduate Advisor and find out if your University is offering a Hybrid Model/In-person course.
  • Keep all your documents and I-20 updated.
  • Don’t panic.

If you are not in the US, but planning to go there at the start of Fall 2020 semester, think TWICE. If you can, DEFER.

Should I drop my study abroad plans altogether?

NOT AT ALL!

This guideline only applies for FALL 2020 semester, and specifically to those students who are taking it FULLY ONLINE.

It has no implications whatsoever for Spring 2021 or Fall 2021.

If Kanye West or some other dude becomes the President of the Wild Wild West coming November, there is a massive possibility that such guidelines can be revised to suit the political milieu.

So, no need to start dropping any plans as of now.

Instead, focus on skill and profile building.

FALL 2021 applications will open up around September. And it will be one hell of a competition as many from the current crop will also be applying. So, the sooner you apply the better the chances to get an admit from your dream school. Now is as good a time as any to start preparing for the class of 2021.

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