In a recent announcement, the Biden administration has come up with US new rules for student visas for F and M category foreign students. New or initial F and M students in the US, who were not earlier enrolled in a program of study on March 9, 2020, will not be able to enter the country as non-immigrant students for the 2022-23 academic year if their course of study is 100% online. Most students from India apply for the F1 category visa.
As per the US immigration and Customs Enforcement, “a new student should be allowed to enter the US if he/she is engaged in a hybrid program, with some requirement for in-person learning.”
- The total number of SEVIS records for active F-1 and M-1 students was
1,251,569 in the calendar year 2020, a decrease of 17.86% from 2019.
- International F-1 and M-1 students arrived in the US from more than 224 countries and territories in 2021.
- The number of Indian students entering the US in 2021 increased by 12% to 25,391.
Consistent with this restriction, the designated school officials (DSOs) have been advised not to issue a Form I-20, ‘Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant Student Status,’ for students in new or initial status outside the US. These include those who plan to take classes at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified educational institution that is functioning fully online.
These new US visa rules for international students are in accordance with the March 2020 advisory issued by the country’s government. Additionally, if an active F student is outside the US, his/her Student and Exchange Visitor Information System or SEVIS record can remain in active status and not be terminated. This is relevant for thousands of students who aspire to study in US every year.
As the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place for academic year 2022-23, students are deemed to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study. For this reason, the five-month temporary absence provision will not apply for students who remain in active status.
However, in a relief to those pursuing online classes, SEVP will allow F and M students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study, even if they are outside the US and are taking the online classes elsewhere. “This temporary provision is only in effect due to COVID-19 for academic year 2022-23 and only for schools that comply with the requirement must notify SEVP,” says the guidance.
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A number of students often ask if DSOs mark the ‘study abroad’ field in SEVIS for students who are outside the US and are in active status, engaging in online studies from their home country. In such instances, universities and colleges should mention ‘study abroad’ in SEVIS for students who are in their home countries unless they are attending an overseas institution as part of a formal study abroad arrangement.
In case F and M students are unable to pursue online classes or other alternative instruction needs due to the lack of available technology resources, they must inform their university. The school officials can keep these student records active in SEVIS once offline classes restart and as long as the student plans to resume his/her program of study.
These new US visa rules for international students are towards extending COVID-19-related guidance for the 2022-23 academic year to allow international students flexibility to take online or hybrid courses in excess of regulatory limits. The US new rules for student visa are further meant to help international students to pick the US as their preferred study destination.