SEVP Issues Fall 2020 Guidance for F-1 Students

On July 24, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) clarified that for the Fall 2020 semester F-1 students should abide by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance originally issued in March 2020. This guidance allows distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19.

What does this mean for international students?

  • Continuing students in the U.S. or abroad can continue to take online classes from either location for the Fall 2020 semester. As long as students enroll in a full course load and maintain their immigration status, USC will continue to keep their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record in active status.
    • Continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. but would like to return to the U.S. remain eligible to do so as long as they have a valid visa, an I-20 endorsed for travel and all other documents listed on the travel section of the OIS website. However, given the continuing public health crisis in Los Angeles, and the uncertain guidance from state and local authorities, the University is not recommending students travel back to campus at this time. Please review the Travel Considerations section below.
  • Newly admitted and transfer students who are already in the U.S. can remain in the country and maintain F-1 status while completing a full course load online in the Fall 2020 semester. Contact the USC Office of Admission I-20 processing team at usci20@usc.edu if you have not yet received your USC transfer I-20.
    • Students must complete Passport Verification (PPV) before OIS can activate their SEVIS record. Students should not depart the U.S. before their SEVIS record has been activated. PPV instructions will be available on the new student section of the OIS website soon.
  • New students, transfer students, students returning from a Leave of Absence (LOA), students traveling to reinstate status, and all other students with an initial attendance or transfer pending I-20 who are currently outside the U.S. are not eligible to enter the U.S. and enroll in 100% online classes. We recommend these students do not attempt to enter the U.S. on an F-1 student visa since USC cannot currently guarantee the availability of in-person classes during the Fall 2020 semester due to elevated COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County.
    • These students have two options for the Fall 2020 semester:
      • Begin their studies from abroad as a non-F-1 student
        • New and transfer students should contact their academic department to notify them of their plans online. New I-20s with Spring 2021 start dates will be re-issued in August.
        • All other students with an initial attendance I-20 should email OIS at ois@usc.edu to obtain a new I-20 for the Spring 2021 semester.
      • Contact their admissions or academic advisor to inquire about the possibility of postponing their studies to a future semester.

By confirming the continuation of the March 2020 guidance, SEVP also clarified the following:

  • Students do not need a replacement I-20 with special language about the mode of instruction offered by USC.
  • For new and continuing students currently in the U.S. and continuing students outside the U.S., Fall 2020 semester enrollment will count towards the one academic year requirement for CPT/OPT eligibility.
  • Students must be present in the U.S. at the time of applying for OPT. Students are not permitted to apply for OPT while abroad.
  • For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP will allow students to engage in CPT remotely in the U.S. or abroad, provided the student is enrolled in the appropriate USC internship course and either the employer has an office outside the US or the employer has a means to assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives remotely.
  • For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP will allow students to work fewer than 20 hours per week and still meet the OPT employment requirements. SEVP did not specify a minimum number of hours, only that students should still be working and reporting employment to SEVP as required. Students on OPT can work remotely in the U.S. or abroad.
  • As long as continuing students enroll in a full course load and maintain their immigration status, USC will continue to keep their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records active even if they are outside of the U.S. for more than five months.
    • The five-month temporary absence provision will begin on May 15 for students who were enrolled in the Spring 2020 semester but returned to their home country and did not enroll in Summer 2020 semester and do not intend to enroll in the Fall 2020 semester. These students should complete the Leave of Absence (LOA) form.
  • Continuing students should not drop below the full course load requirement unless permitted to do so either through a Reduced Course Load (RCL) or Leave of Absence (LOA) approved by their academic advisor and OIS. No extra RCLs are available due to COVID-19, but a final semester RCL is still possible.

Travel Considerations:

Specific guidance for institutions of higher education is expected soon from the Governor of California and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Given the current public health situation, the University recommends students not travel to campus and instead make progress toward their degree through fully online coursework this Fall.

We understand that the decision to travel to the U.S. during the pandemic is a personal one and should be considered carefully. Although continuing students remain eligible to return to the U.S. to resume their studies, here are some additional considerations that may impact the decision to travel:

  • On July 16, the Chief Health Officer for USC Student Health issued a health advisory to the USC community regarding the rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 infections in Los Angeles County. California has entered a record-breaking stage of new cases.
  • All travelers from international destinations are required by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the United States before arriving on campus or residing in campus housing.
    • This means that all students returning from international travel destinations are required to self-isolate for 14 days prior to coming to campus facilities. Students are responsible for their self-isolation accommodations for the 14-day period.
  • Travel restrictions remain in place for all travelers coming from China, Brazil, and Iran.
  • F-1 continuing student travelers from the Schengen Area, the UK and Ireland who are applying for or have valid visas are now eligible to travel to the U.S.
  • Students entering the U.S. should expect delays upon inspection at Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). This updated SEVP guidance is still very new, and all the US government agencies are learning about these changes at about the same time we do. It takes time for information to be disseminated throughout the agencies.
  • Students with valid visas do not need to apply for a new visa before traveling to the U.S. to resume their studies.
  • Many U.S. embassies and consulates are still closed, although some have recently begun a phased resumption of routine visa services on a post-by-post basis and are beginning to prioritize student visas. Continuing students who need a new visa are eligible to apply; however, issuance of the visa is at the discretion of their local U.S. embassy or consulate. Many students with confirmed visa appointments have had their interviews postponed multiple times or cancelled.
  • International travel is still in a fluid state as the pandemic evolves. New travel restrictions could arise at any moment, which could lead to significant disruptions while in transit.
  • There remains limited availability of commercial flights worldwide and flight cancellations and travel disruptions are common.
  • If you do choose to travel, please review the travel section of the OIS website.

OIS understands students may still have questions about the Fall 2020 semester. Due to the large volume of inquiries received by OIS at the moment, we ask that you visit the International Student FAQ section of the USC COVID-19 Resource Center website for answers to common questions. This information will be updated often as new details become available. We also encourage you to reach out to your academic advisor for assistance with enrollment options.

Please look out for additional updates about the fall semester from the University in the days ahead. USC and OIS are committed to advocating for the members of our international community and we are here to support you.