On July 6, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued much anticipated policy guidance for institutions that enroll international students in F-1 status during the Fall 2020 semester. The information in this message only pertains to students in F-1 status.
Guidance provided by DHS varies by the model that institutions have selected for fall instruction. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will offer a blend of in-person and remote instruction; this is called a hybrid model. The guidance for the hybrid model is:
“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. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. The above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses (see 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v)))”.
How does this guidance affect F-1 students at Illinois? Since we have adopted a hybrid model for the Fall 2020 semester, the following is true for our students:
F-1 Students Currently Residing in the United States:
F-1 students may enroll in more than one online class (or three credit hours) but they cannot take all their courses entirely online for the Fall 2020 semester.
F-1 students must continue to take the minimum number of online courses required to make normal progress in their degree program.
F-1 Students Residing Outside the United States:
F-1 students residing outside of the U.S. are permitted to enroll in an online course of study, but they will not be allowed to continue to hold F-1 student status for this period. Therefore, the time spent abroad will not be counted toward the one full academic year in F-1 status required prior to becoming eligible for certain immigration benefits, including Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT).
F-1 students who have not yet arrived in the U.S. may activate their F-1 status upon arrival in the U.S. If new international students are not able to obtain visas and travel to the U.S. in time to begin the fall semester they may choose to enroll in a remote study option or defer admission. Students who remain outside the U.S. will not be bound by regulatory requirements affecting F-1 students and are therefore not required to be registered full-time.
F-1 Students Registered for Thesis Credit:
F-1 students registered for thesis credit (such as 599) can remain in F-1 status as long as they continue to make progress towards completion of their degree.
For all F-1 students attending school in the U.S. in the fall, new I-20s should be issued by Designated School Officials with a special notation, "the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program." F-1 students must have this updated I-20 to apply for an entry visa or travel into the U.S. Our International Student and Scholar Services is currently working to clarify this guidance from SEVP officials and will work with campus partners to update I-20s as necessary.
Please bear in mind this is still a fluid situation due to the nature of a global pandemic. We will continue to update you with additional changes and guidance as it becomes available.
We recognize that this is a stressful time and that this announcement raises additional concerns for our international community. We are all in this together and we remain committed to ensuring that you are not left with a fully online course schedule that jeopardizes your student immigration status. The University, colleges, ISSS and others are working to better understand aspects of the policy that are not yet fully clear. We will continue to support you and advocate for you throughout your studies at Illinois.