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US Freezes F1 visa for fall 2020 owing to COVID-19

Bhavya Rawal Bhavya Rawal
Study Abroad Expert

On July 6, 2020, US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) declared that no student holding an F1 visa will be allowed to remain in the country if all their classes for the fall term have been moved online. In addition to this, it was also declared that no F1 visa will be issued to students who were set to begin their classes for fall 2020 with accredited US universities

These orders were released within a month of signing an executive order on suspension of any new H1-B or employment visa until the end of 2020 (the order was to be followed starting from June 24, 2020).  

These decisions have highly impacted both freshmen and continuing students (who are currently in the US). As reported by the US Embassy, the number of Indian students studying surpassed 200,000 (2019), there is a large number of Indian students who are affected by these new visa rules.

What does the freezing of F1-visa mean?

The F1-visa allows you to enter and live in USA as a full-time student until your coursework completes. It also allows students to work on campus for up to 20 hours a week. In the current scenario, freezing of F1 visa means that no student whose college/university is offering education completely online (for fall 2020) will be issued an entry visa. In addition, students who already have an F1 visa will also not be allowed to stay in the USA, if their fall’20 classes are going to happen online. 

Who does this affect? 

The decision affects new students who are set to begin their studies in Fall 2020 semester or are applying for the same. It also affects students currently on an F1 visa in the USA, they will be required to leave the country if their program is set to go completely online for the rest of the fall 2020 semester. 

A new ruling revoking the F1 Visa Freeze policy that resulted in students being deported back to the home country has been issued on July 14’ 2020. 

Colleges Offering Education Online for Fall’20

Many US colleges are looking at the possibility of keeping their campuses closed until January 2021. Harvard University is among the firsts to declare that the course load will be completely online until vaccination is found to tackle coronavirus. 

Various B-schools in USA are looking for a recovery plan and do not think of beginning classes up until January 2021. B-schools like Stanford Graduate School of Business on their Virtual Admit Day suggested that they hope on recovering with in-person classes but are also prepared for virtual completion of the semester due to social distancing requirements and visa challenges. 

Decisions for most colleges are now expected to be released soon, with the passing of the new visa regulation, on whether they will opt for a hybrid or virtual education. ICE, however, has given a deadline until 15 July to colleges to release their decisions. 

Continuing Students in USA for Fall 2020 

The course will not be suspended for continuing students who will be required to leave the USA, courses will be commenced through online classes and they can complete their education from their home countries.

Continuing students can opt for transferring to a university offering hybrid programs if they want to stay in the USA. However, currently transferring to other universities is difficult as applications for most of the universities have closed. 

If you are unable to transfer to another university and are still in USA, strict actions may be taken. You may have to face immigration consequences and there are even chances of being further disallowed for a US visa

Challenges Involved with F1-visa freeze

Going completely virtual for programs will be challenging for international students for two major reasons- time-zone difference and lack of proper infrastructure. 

There are several other complications that have aroused along with this decision including not clarifying the fall 2020 freshman whether they will be eligible for deferral spring or fall 2021. It further does not clarify whether students who are required to go back right now can complete their course in-person in spring 2021 or not.

Who remains unaffected by the new F1 freeze?

If the university you have enrolled with starts offering hybrid courses (online & in-person courses), then you will not be affected by this decision. In this case, the university is required to certify ICE that the program pursued by the student is indeed a hybrid course along with proving that some of the classes will happen in-person and on-campus. Universities are required to update their education mode with SEVIS within 10 days of the change.

Effect on USA Economy

5.5% of the total student body in US Colleges is international. They contributed around 41 Billion Dollars to the US economy in the 2019 fiscal year. The 20 Trillion dollar economy of US will see only a drop of 0.2% because of this decision. However, for Universities, the amount is substantial and falls around 10% of their total budget. 

Additionally, technological advancement in STEM courses is highly contributed by international students. This can be a reason that many universities may choose to offer hybrid courses. The US President also stated that universities and colleges should begin with in-person classes, adding the inclination towards offering hybrid courses. 

Note: On July 11, 2020 (as reported by Economics Times), over 180 US colleges came together to oppose the decision released. MIT and Harvard filed a petition against the F1 visa 2020 updates released by ICE at district court Boston. ICE been given time till 13 July to respond towards this by the Judge. 

Prospective Students in USA for 2021 or later

The decisions are currently being taken in the light of COVID-19 pandemic. These can be long-lasting but the chances of the ban affecting prospective students for the year 2021 or later are low. 

Students planning their higher education from the USA for 2021 or later can now indulge in researching universities, building applications, preparing and taking competitive exams such as IELTS/TOEFL/GRE/GMAT/ACT/SAT, etc. Scoring the best within the timeframe available, building a profile, and adding skills to resume. 

As prospective students, you should be vigilant towards external situations, a further effect of coronavirus on immigration regulations, and make decisions wisely on your studying abroad plans.

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