Pandemic-era DHS flexibilities in US terminated
Flexibilities implemented by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program during the Covid-19 public health emergency have been terminated, the DHS announced on May 11.
The accommodations were related to interruptions with travel and the delivery of instruction and were implemented as a temporary measure to facilitate the least disruptive learning process for international students during the pandemic.
While guidance ended on May 11, international students who are actively studying on F and M visas are allowed to finish this academic year under the Covid-19 guidance through to the end of this summer.
The exception to this is online courses, which will not count toward a full course of study that exceed the regulatory limits for the 2023/24 academic year.
New international students, or those or re-entering their institution, are required to enrol in programs that comply with distance learning guidance for non-immigrant students.
Over the course of the pandemic, some schools permanently adopted changes to their programs. DHS indicated schools must submit a ‘Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Non-immigrant Student’ with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System if they want to introduce any permanent, material changes following the pandemic.
Altering modes of instructional delivery is considered a material change and must adhere to official guidance regarding limitations of online and hybrid instruction. Thus, non-immigrant students are not permitted to remain in the US to study in programs solely online.
In addition, according to the department, with the termination of the flexibilities, SEVIS records for F or M students studying fully online cannot be labelled “study abroad” and must be terminated. Only students attending an overseas institution as part of a formal study abroad arrangement may be labelled “study abroad”.
“During the pandemic, numerous institutions changed their grading policies”
However, students on F and M visas may continue to work in their on-campus employment remotely. DHS stated, “Schools should be able to explain how the students are providing services associated with the employment while not at the location of the employer.” Remote work for those participating in OPT and STEM OPT extensions are also permitted to continue, so long as it complies with OPT regulations.
During the pandemic, numerous institutions changed their grading policies. While this is not considered a material change, and does not necessitate approval from DHS, SEVP-certified schools must be prepared to supply related documentation and rationale to the Department upon request.
Another pandemic-era change was the acceptance of electronic signatures on I-17s and the allowance of I-20s being sent via email. DHS has permanently updated their guidance to continue to allow both measures.
This guidance comes on the heels of the SEVIS annual report, which indicated that the US has not fully rebounded from pre-pandemic numbers.
There were 1,362,157 international students on vocational and academic visas in the US in 2022, a 10% increase from the previous year. In 2019, there were a total of 1,523,758.
All four US regions saw an increases in international students from 2021 to 2022, with the Northeast and Midwest rising by 11.6% and 11.5%, respectively. Increases in the West of the US were more moderate at an 8.3% increase.
A total of six SEVP-certified schools each enrolled more than 15,000 international students, an increase of two schools from 2021.
K12 enrolment increased by 7.8% from 2021 to 2022, equivalent to a rise of 3,887 students, and no K12 schools hosted more than 700 international students in calendar year 2022.