International students will not lose F-1 visa status over online courses, per new US accommodations

March 10, 2020, 1:30 p.m.

Stanford’s switch to online classes amid coronavirus concerns will not endanger international students’ F-1 visa status thanks to new accommodations announced in a message sent by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Monday.

International students need an F-1 visa to study as a full-time student in the United States. Typically, F-1 students can count only one online class toward a full course of study while still maintaining visa eligibility during each term, according to the DHS website. 

But as universities move classes online in an effort to combat the spread of coronavirus, international students now taking online classes will not be at risk of losing their visa, according to the DHS Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

“SEVP recognizes that the COVID-19 crisis is fluid and rapidly changing,” Monday’s message states. “For that reason, SEVP is not requiring prior notice of procedural adaptations, leaving room for schools to comply with state or local health emergency declarations.”

SEVP requires schools to notify SEVP of any procedural adaptation within 10 business days of deciding to make the change. The message notes that decisions “to provide online instruction” fall within the scope of potential changes.

The Bechtel International Center told international students on Monday that the measure is a temporary accommodation “until this health crisis passes.”

On Friday, Stanford canceled all in-person class meetings and final exams for the last two weeks of winter quarter, with instructors moving classes to online platforms.

While the University has not yet made an announcement on spring quarter classes, instructors have been asked to prepare to potentially teach classes online for the first few weeks of spring quarter, according to a Sunday email from School of Humanities and Sciences Dean Debra Satz. Multiple academic advising directors also told undergraduate students via email on Tuesday morning that it is “likely that classes will be online” in spring quarter.

More than 20 colleges in the U.S. have canceled in-person classes over coronavirus concerns, including peer institutions like Columbia and Princeton, according to NPR.

Minh Nguyen ’21, an international student from Vietnam, said that while she was not planning to travel back home for spring break, having the option to travel back without risking being unable to return due to visa issues was reassuring.

“It’s very comforting to know we have the option [to return home], especially for students whose countries are not on travel restrictions,” Nguyen said. “They now have a safe place to turn to. Otherwise, I don’t know that every single student would have family members or friends they could turn to stay with during the time when they’re not a student at Stanford.”

Da Hyang “Summer” Jung, a second-year Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering and an international student from South Korea, said she and her lab had cancelled plans to travel to South Korea due to travel restrictions placed on the country. She said she would not count on the U.S. government to maintain a temporary accommodation.

“Even if my F-1 visa status remains the same, there’s always the possibility that the U.S. government will not let you into the country once you leave,” Jung said. “It’s not 100% guaranteed that the visa status will remain the same.”

Also in its email, Bechtel urged students to avoid personal international and domestic travel and announced that it would temporarily move in-person advising to over-email. Bechtel is “receiving a high volume of emails from [students] regarding travel and visa issues,” the email reads.

“We remain committed to providing the best possible level of service to our international community during this current health emergency,” Bechtel wrote.

Jung said coronavirus is taking a toll on international students on campus.

“American students can go home; they can be with their families,” Jung said. “International students are blocked here. It’s not a good situation for averyone.”

Kate Selig served as the Vol. 260 editor in chief. Contact her at kselig 'at'

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