Employee guidance for international student F-1 visas

by Bruce Schultz, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs  |   

Dear Colleagues,

You may have heard on the news yesterday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security intends to modify its temporary exemptions pertaining to international students taking online courses this fall. While the changes have not been published in the Federal Register yet, there is temporary guidance that I want to share with you.

Ordinarily, international students on an F-1 visa may take only one online course each semester. Due to COVID-19, the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) instituted a temporary exemption regarding this requirement for the spring and summer 2020 semesters. For the fall 2020 semester, SEVP intends to modify these temporary exemptions. Because UAA made the decision to offer a mixture of online and in-person classes this fall, our international students will be allowed to take more than one online class provided the following:

  1. Student’s academic program is not entirely online.
  2. Student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall semester.
  3. Student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.

Please keep in mind that this information comes from temporary guidance, and we have seen instances in the past where the final published regulations are different from the temporary guidance that was originally offered.

UAA must now update and reissue all Form I-20s to reflect these changes in program enrollment no later than Aug. 4. We cannot begin this process until each college has finished making changes to its fall schedule to reflect whether courses will be delivered online or in person.

A course change from in person to distance once the recertification process is completed could adversely affect international students. For example, a change in course delivery to an entirely online course load would require the student to leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their eligibility status. This might include finding another in-person degree-applicable class or transferring to another school with in-person instruction. This is a troubling situation we are hoping to avoid for our students.

International students are an important part of our campus community. If you are charged with advising or supporting international students, I ask that you check the status of each international student and review their fall schedule to ensure compliance with this temporary guidance. If schedule changes occur which jeopardize an international student’s status, the Office of International Student Services will notify the student.

If you have questions about the temporary guidance, please do not hesitate to contact International Student Services Coordinator David Racki at dracki@alaska.edu.

Bruce Schultz
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

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