Like so many students, families, and schools, my colleagues and I were taken aback by the recent updates from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and we thank you for your patience as we paused to understand the updated regulations and chart a path forward. After studying the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance for the fall 2020 semester, released on July 6, 2020, and consulting with our SEVP Field Representative, we can provide answers to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) we’ve received in the days since the announcement; the FAQs and corresponding answers are included below.
We understand that the SEVP announcement and subsequent FAQ does not address all of the stakeholders concerns and anticipate that our community will likely have follow up questions. Know that we will continue to advocate for international students with the appropriate governmental agencies and will continue to provide updates as we gain further clarity.
Q: What operational changes will Grier School report to SEVP?
A: Grier School will report that campus will reopen in the fall and the school will use a hybrid plan of in-person and online classes.
Q: Will Grier School still offer students the option to participate in an entirely online program?
A:Yes. Both domestic and international students will still be able to enroll in all-online classes; however, international students enrolled in an entirely online program will have to do so outside of the United States. The school will report a change of status to SEVP for the individuals who elect to remain in their home countries and study remotely. Regardless of where or how students complete their coursework, they will continue to earn academic credit and make academic progress on schedule. Participating in the online program will not impact a student’s graduation year or academic status.
Q: Can continuing Grier students completing online studies outside the US maintain Active F-1 status with SEVP?
A: For the purposes of SEVP record keeping, these students will be granted a leave of absence from campus. As such, Grier will suspend (or “terminate”) the students’ records on the basis of Authorized Early Withdrawal. This official designation is a routine, administrative label that ensures that Grier School can submit a Request Change to Student Status (from “terminated” to “active”) for any student who is returning after an absence from campus of less than five months from the start of the fall 2020 semester. SEVP has not provided additional guidance in regards to students who may ultimately remain outside the US for more than five months (from the start of the fall semester) as a result of COVID-19. The five month rule was suspended in the spring of 2020, and SEVP had not yet indicated when suspension of the five month rule will end.
Q: What happens to those students who remain outside the US for more than five months?
A: Prior to the procedural adaptations introduced in the spring, a student who was outside the US for more than five months and was ready to return to her studies in the US would be issued a new I-20 (with a new SEVIS ID) and would apply for a new student visa. Again, because the new SEVP guidance does not address the five month rule and its current suspended status, we do not yet know if it will be enforced moving forward. Fortunately, past experiences with Grier students who have been issued new visas after extended absences from campus provide reassurance that students are routinely granted new visas without issue.
Q: Can initial status students (those who are beginning their studies at Grier in the fall 2020 semester) participate in the online program and, if so, what will become of their I-20 and student status?
A: New students can begin their Grier education through the entirely online program and shift to in-person education at a later date. They will receive academic credit and make normal progress towards their high school diploma. Because these students will not be on campus, their SEVP records and I-20s will be altered to reflect a deferred on-campus program start date. Students in this situation do not need to try and schedule student visa appointments before the start of the fall semester if they plan to spend the semester studying in their home country. They will remain in initial status with a deferred start date until they are ready and able to study in the United States and will then proceed through the visa application process with the Department of State. New students who are already in possession of student visas will remain in initial status with a deferred start date until they travel to the US and arrive on campus for in-person learning.
Q: Can international students travel to Grier School’s campus to participate in the hybrid program that includes in-person classes?
A: Yes, absolutely. Grier administration and teaching faculty is working to remain flexible to ensure the best interests of our students and will welcome students back on campus both for the start of the fall 2020 semester as well as at other times through the fall semester as students are able to obtain student visas and flights to the US.
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