COVID-19: Information for F-1 International Students in the U.S.

By Samantha Davis, Immigration Lawyer in Richmond, Va

Due to the provided guidance regarding COVID-19, colleges and universities have been requiring students to move off campus and have switched classes to remote learning. If you are an international student, you may be concerned about how these changes affect your status. SEVP’s priority is ensuring that F and M students can make normal progress in a full course of study as required by federal regulations. In all cases, schools and students must document any changes made and be prepared to provide this information to SEVP upon request. Look for any official updates from SEVP on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) COVID-19 Guidance page. On that page, SEVP has provided a Frequently Asked Questions document that is regularly updated as the situation with the pandemic continues to change.

It is important for F and M students to remember that you must maintain your nonimmigrant student status, even during emergency events like this. Stay in communication with your designated school official (DSO) during this time and communicate changes like a different address if you are required to move off campus. Your DSO needs to update your address in SEVIS. DSOs can now electronically send Forms I-20 to student email addresses listed in SEVIS so make sure your email address is up to date with your DSO.

If you have traveled back home to complete the spring term remotely your SEVIS record should remain in Active status and not be terminated. The five-month temporary absence provision will not apply for students who remain in Active status. SEVP is allowing students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study in excess of the regulatory limits, even if you are taking the online classes elsewhere.

Students who have traveled home may continue to engage in CPT during their time abroad, provided they are enrolled in a program of study of which the CPT in an integral component, the DSO has authorized the CPT in advance and either the employer has an office outside of the U.S. or the employer has a means to assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives while they are abroad.

When considering returning to the United States, it is important to check the travel restrictions in place for both their home country and the United States. Students should also confirm with the DSO on what the operational status of the school is and if any specific policies apply to out-of-country students. Additionally, DSOs cannot extend a students’ program to accommodate for delayed graduation ceremonies. If you need to return to the United States to attend graduation you have the following options:

• Return prior to the program end date on the Form I-20 and attend during the 60-day grace period;
• Return with a pending change of educational level or transfer Form I-20 if you are continuing your studies; or
• Return on another visa classification.

We are here to help you navigate the immigration maze with peace of mind and confidence. Contact Sumner Immigration Law to set a consultation to create your strategy today! We are immigration lawyers in Richmond, VA but we serve clients throughout the U.S. and around the world. You can call us at 804-396-3412 or send us an email to We look forward to hearing from you.