Guide to Distance Learning for International Students [COVID-19]

Posted by Frank Gogol
Updated on April 27, 2022

The world is facing a pandemic, and everywhere you look, you see people advising others to stay at home – and rightfully so. But at the start of the pandemic, nobody knew how bad things were going to get, and one thing that was uncertain was the situation of international students. They have to deal with distance learning, and universities are not prepared to deal with a situation like this. So, how is COVID-19 affecting F1 students?

COVID-19 and F1 Students

Over 26% of the students in U.S. colleges are on an F1 visa. As such, the current issues behind the COVID-19 are affecting a great number of these students. One of the risks they have to deal with is school closures. A lot of schools are closed right now, as it would be too risky to have so many students gather up in one place.

But as understandable as this is, a lot of students end up being left with no place to live. Some international students succeeded in finding housing through their schools, but not all of them have the same luck. What’s even worse is that they do not have families or too many friends in the U.S. who can help them during these challenging times.

Many international students should have started school this spring, but that may not be possible anymore. Due to school closures and travel bans, the semester will have to be delayed.

Furthermore, school closures have also had a huge financial impact on international students. Compared to U.S. students, international ones have to pay more for their education. But the tuition money has been paid to the university already. Add that to the fact that many students took out loans to be able to afford the school tuition.

Now that classes are delayed, graduation will take place much later, which means that F1 visa students with loans will have to pay even more for their education, and even more interest.

Moreover, traveling would be too risky during a pandemic, so travel bans have been applied. F1 visa students with no place to live would have to go home until the coronavirus crisis is over, but they are not able to do so anymore due to these bans.

F1 Visa Online Course Restrictions

Now that schools are closed, it has been agreed that students should attend online classes instead, to prevent delaying the classes too much. These classes can be very convenient, as students can be in the comfort of their homes while studying.

Even still, there are some rules regarding online courses that all F1 visa students should be aware of. While these classes do not require physical attendance, there are limits to the number of online distance learning that any F1 visa student should follow.

F1 students may only have one distance education/online course without the physical oversight of an employee from school, or a three-credit equivalent. This applies to the full course of study per academic term. Of course, you can take more classes to maintain your status, but the class has to be physically monitored and proctored by an employee from the school.

If you’re part of an English language program, then you may not count distance or online education courses towards a full course of study. The same goes if you’re an M-1 student. 

Current Learning Scenarios F1 Students Are Facing

If you are an F1 student, then there are three scenarios that you may be facing. SEVP came out with news about how schools are going to deal with this lockdown period.

“SEVP is committed to remaining flexible in allowing schools to make temporary procedural adaptations so nonimmigrant students can continue to make normal forward progress in their program of study. They can temporarily engage in distance-learning, either from within the U.S. or outside the country, in light of COVID-19. SEVP will provide updated guidance as the scope and length of this situation becomes more clear.”

Although SEVP offered guidance, it’s important to note that this could change, depending on how the COVID-19 situation progresses. This is why you should keep an eye on it.

Here are the three scenarios that students on an F1 visa are facing:

Complete School Shutdown, No Distance Learning Option

In some cases, a school will have a complete shutdown and there will be no option for distance learning. If that’s the case, students should remain in active status in SEVIS if they want to resume their studies when everything returns to normal. Schools have to send notice to SEVP of the procedural changes within 10 business days.

Distance Learning Option, Student Remains in the U.S.

There may be a distance learning option, while the student doesn’t want to leave the United States. So, you should participate in alternate or online learning, and stay in active SEVIS status. Every school has 10 business days to notify SEVP about this.

As the COVID-19 situation is very serious, SEVP allows students on an F1 visa to count their online classes towards a full course of study above the 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v) limits, for a temporary period. This only applies during the COVID-19 emergency.

Distance Learning Option, Student Returns to Home Country

Just like with the second scenario, students will have the opportunity to attend online classes and stay in active status in SEVP. The classes can also be counted towards a full course of study, similar to the scenario where the student remains in the United States. As such, students will have the opportunity to study from their own home for the duration of the emergency, as long as everything is alright and SEVP is notified within 10 business days by the school.

Will Taking Classes Online during COVID-19 Affect F1 Visa Status?

Although the Department of Homeland Security reassured students that their visa statuses will not be affected by online classes, there are still some concerns. COVID-19 has forced universities to close their campuses partially, which raised a lot of questions.

As there are many concerns about whether the F1 visa status will be affected by the outbreak or not, the NAFSA addressed them to the Department of Homeland Security. According to the DHS, they made some changes to the rules of F1 visas, so that all international students will be able to safely continue attending online classes.

Many others raised concerns about the status of the visa in case international students go home but there won’t be any problem with this either. International students can go home during this emergency and keep their visas.

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Being an F1 student during the COVID-19 pandemic can be tough, especially if you don’t know how things are going to unfold regarding your visa status. What’s more, some students must leave the country, as they have nowhere to stay during this crisis, and there are travel bans too. Things can still change as the situation progresses, so it’s best to keep an eye on the news and see what will happen in the near future with F1 students. As of now, everyone can take online classes without any issues.

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