Immigration Status

This section provides helpful information about maintaining your visas status and the necessary requirements when wanting to travel. Make sure you have all the correct documents and know where to go to apply for visas, if necessary. There are no restrictions on travel within the U.S., but you should make sure that you have made copies of all immigration and other important documents in case something happens to the originals. When you travel long distances from Syracuse, take the I-20 or DS-2019, passport, I-94, and proof of financial support with you.

On September 25, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposed rule entitled "Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission and an Extension of Stay Procedure for Nonimmigrant Academic Students, Exchange Visitors, and Representatives of Foreign Information Media” in the Federal Register to change the length of time for which our F-1 and J-1 students and scholars may be admitted to the U.S., changing it from Duration of Status (D/S) to a “date certain”.  In essence, the rule would allow international students to be admitted to the U.S. until the end date of their program of study as listed on the I-20 or DS-2019 OR for a two or four year period of stay (determining factors discussed below), whichever is shorter.  If a student needs more time to complete the degree, he/she would have to apply (with fee) to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for an extension of stay.

If the rule were to be adopted as is, some examples would be:

  • A student who is in a one year Master’s or Certificate program of study, would be admitted to the U.S. until the program end date on the I-20/DS-2019.
  • A student who is in an 18 month program of study would be admitted to the U.S. until the program end date on their I-20/DS-2019.
  • A student in a 2 year Master’s program of study would be admitted until the program end date on their I-20/DS-2019.
  • A student in a 4 year Bachelor’s program of study would be admitted until the program end date on their I-20/DS-2019 or until 2 years or 4 years from their date of entry (determining factors discussed below), whichever is shorter.
  • A student in a 4+ year Bachelor’s or Ph.D. program of study would be admitted until 2 years or 4 years from their date of entry (determining factors discussed below).

The proposed rule states that an entry would be limited to a maximum of 2 years for:

  • Students from countries listed as State Sponsors of Terrorism(currently Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria)
  • Students from countries whose student overstay rate is greater than 10% (a list to be published periodically)
  • Other factors perceived as threats to U.S. national interests (i.e., sensitive fields of study)
  • Students studying at institutions that do not participate in E-verify (an optional electronic check of employment eligibility for employees)

The proposed rule has many detailed provisions that we and academic professional organizations are analyzing.

This is a proposed rule and is not in effect. Administrative regulations in the U.S. are adopted following a formal process of publication, a public comment period, required consideration of comments and either abandonment, revision or adoption of the rule as is or as revised.  As this proposed change will have a substantial impact on international students and scholars in the U.S., DHS is likely to receive many comments.  We do not know what the likelihood of the regulation being implemented is or what the timetable for implementation might be.  We will continue to monitor the process and advocate for our international students and scholars.

A summary of the proposed rule prepared by our professional organization, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, may be found here. The full proposed rule can be found here.

In March 2020 (during the Spring 2020) semester, when the Coronavirus Pandemic impacted colleges and universities in the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued operational Guidance that was followed by Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that temporarily changed the way immigration regulations were applied to students in F-1 status.  That Guidance was restricted to the Spring 2020 and Summer 2020 terms of study.

As the pandemic continued through the summer, colleges and universities in the U.S. awaited updated Guidance for the Fall 2020 semester.  On July 6, 2020, ICE published Guidance for the Fall semester.  That Guidance was challenged by several lawsuits from colleges and universities, professional organizations, and states.  As the result of a resolution reached in one of the lawsuits (filed by Harvard/MIT) ICE agreed to cancel the July 6 directive and revert to the policy that existed in March 2020.

On July 24, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued a Broadcast Message.

for universities to follow with respect to international students in Fall 2020. This Broadcast Message replaces the now rescinded July 6 directive.  ICE also issued clarifying questions to supplement this Broadcast Message and the FAQs previously published.

The immigration regulation that usually governs online and in person learning (8 CFR 214.2 (f)(G)) states in part:  “For F-1 students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter may be counted toward the full course of study requirement if the class is taken on-line or through distance education and does not require the student's physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class. ...”

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, ICE/SEVP used its discretionary authority (which it has historically used in emergencies) to temporarily exempt new and continuing international students from this regulation.  That means that F-1 students can take more than one class/three credits of online or remote instruction in Fall 2020.

This is what we know:

Fall 2020 Enrollment

Continuing Students

Continuing F-1 students in the U.S.(those that were in F-1 status in Spring 2020 semester including those changing degree level); SEVIS Transfer Students should see the Section on SEVIS Transfer Students below), may take a combination of classes in various modes: all in-person, all hybrid, all fully remote or a combination of these.  Our understanding is that there will be no effect on your SEVIS record as long as you remain enrolled full time and otherwise maintain your F-1 status (no unauthorized employment or unauthorized drop below full-time enrollment).

Continuing F-1 students outside the U.S. may enroll in a fully online course load and your SEVIS record will remain Active as long as you maintain full-time enrollment in the Fall 2020 semester.

New Students

New F-1 students (including students returning from a Leave of Absence; SEVIS Transfer Students should see the Section on SEVIS Transfer Students below) scheduled to start studies in Fall 2020 may begin their studies at Syracuse University in the U.S. or from outside the U.S.

New F-1 students coming to the U.S. for the Fall semester may take a combination of online, in-person or hybrid classes.  We believe that means that new international students must take at least one in-person class.  This could be 100% in person or in a hybrid mode with a meaningful component in person.

New F-1 students outside of the United States may take classes 100% online while they remain outside of the United States.  New international students cannot enter the U.S. to take fully online classes.  These students are not required to be full-time.  They can also choose to defer their admission to Syracuse University and begin their studies in a later semester.

If you remain outside the U.S. (have not entered the U.S. using your I-20), F-1 immigration rules do not apply to you.  While you will be able to start your Syracuse University academic career, you will not have started your F-1 student immigration status.  Your F-1 SEVIS record will not be activated in SEVIS in Fall 2020.  It will only be activated after you arrive in the United States and enroll in in-person classes. New students who remain outside the U.S. but enroll for the fall semester and who plan to arrive in the U.S. for Spring 2021 semester will be sent a new I-20 with a January 2021 program start date.  This will occur after the Fall 2020 semester begins.  We will provide information on this process at a later date.

F-1 SEVIS Transfer Students

F-1 students whose SEVIS records have been transferred from another school to Syracuse University for Fall 2020 who remained in the U.S. or have returned to the U.S. will be considered a continuing student for Fall 2020.

F-1 students whose SEVIS records have been transferred from another school to Syracuse University for Fall 2020 who are outside of the U. S. and do not enter the U.S. for Fall 2020, will not have their SEVIS transfer completed.  They may begin their Syracuse University academic career part-time or full-time completely online.  These students will be given a new I-20 with a January 2021 program start date.  This will occur after the Fall 2020 semester begins.

Mid-Semester Change in Instruction

Should the pandemic again require that colleges and universities change to online instruction only during the semester, students studying in the U.S. will be able to continue studying online from within the United States and maintain their status.

Five Month Rule

The “Five Month Rule” that usually applies to F-1 students who have been physically outside the U.S. for five months or more and have not been enrolled full-time at SU, will not be applied to students who are enrolled full-time but remain outside the U.S. for five months or more.  Because the SEVIS record will remain Active, the Five Month Rule does not apply.

Visas

While U.S. Embassies and Consulates have been closed for Visa Processing for much of the summer, the Department of State announced a phased resumption of routine visa services on July 14, 2020. The resumption of visa services will occur on a post-by-post basis so long as it safe for Department of State personnel to return to work. Students should check with the specific consulate site to its operations.

Travel Restrictions

The Presidential proclamations restricting certain travelers from entering the United States due to COVID-19 remain intact.

Notably, the Department of State announced on July 16, 2020 that F-1 international students would be exempt from the proclamations banning certain travelers from the Schengen Area, UK, and Ireland.

I-20s

New I-20s with comments that Syracuse University is offering on campus classes are NOT required to be issued nor are comments required to be entered into SEVIS records for continuing or new students.  That requirement was part of the July 6th directive that was rescinded.

New F-1 students who have I-20s with August 2020 program start dates who remain outside the U.S. in Fall 2020 will need to be issued a new I-20 with a January 2021 start date.  We will begin that process after the Fall 2020 semester begins and notify you of the process.

CPT and OPT Eligibility

The Fall 2020 Guidance does not directly provide information about how it affects eligibility for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) of F-1 students enrolled in remote classes.  We hope that SEVP provides guidance soon because this is an important question that is being frequently asked, especially by those in programs that can be completed in two semesters, one of which might be done online from outside the U.S.

Using the Guidance and the current regulations for CPT and OPT, we believe:

  • Continuing F-1 students who are enrolled full-time in the U.S. or outside the U.S. will be eligible for CPT and OPT upon completion of two semesters of full-time registration; however, you must be in the U.S. in F-1 status to apply for CPT or OPT.  You cannot apply for CPT or OPT from outside the U.S.
  • New F-1 students who are enrolled full-time in the U.S. will be eligible for CPT and OPT upon completion of two semesters of full-time registration; you must be in the U.S. in F-1 status to apply for CPT or OPT.
  • New F-1 students who are enrolled full-time but outside the U.S. will need to enter the U.S. and be full-time for two semesters before they become eligible for CPT or OPT.  You will not be able to count the Fall 2020 semester if you are outside the U.S. toward the required two semesters of full-time study in the U.S. for CPT or OPT eligibility.  You will only be eligible after the Spring 2021 and Fall 2021 semester, so in December 2021, January 2022.

The information available to us about the effect of the pandemic on J-1 Students is much less detailed. The Exchange Visitor Program has reminded colleges and universities that the purpose of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program is to facilitate in-person exchanges.  College/university student programs are expected to take place "at a degree-granting post-secondary accredited academic institution" (2 CFR 62.23(a)).  While these regulations allow for some flexibility in permitting a limited amount of distance learning, they do require programs to foster the exchange of ideas between exchange visitors and their American counterparts.

In a message published on March 11, 2020 the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs announced that temporary modifications of J-1 programs for “exigent circumstances beyond a sponsor’s or host entity’s control does not undermine a program’s consistency with the regulations”.  Therefore, because colleges and universities moved to online instruction for Spring and Summer, J-1 student records could remain Active.  And J-1 Program Sponsors (Syracuse University, if your DS-2019 was issued by Syracuse University) could keep Active the SEVIS records for J-1 students who left the U.S. but continued to pursue their J-1 program objectives (Bachelor’s degree, Masters degree, Ph.D. degree, etc.).

However, new J-1 students (i.e., individuals currently in “initial” status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) could only start their exchanges if their programs and host academic institutions would be able to comply with regulatory requirements.   Thus, host academic institutions were expected to have reinstated partial to full-time classroom participation or be able to meet other formal in-person requirements before hosting new J-1 students.

While we do not have detailed guidance on it, this is how we interpret what has been published:

Fall 2020 Enrollment

Continuing Students

Continuing J-1 students in the U.S.(those that were in J-1 status in Spring 2020 semester including those changing degree level) may take a combination of classes in various modes: all in-person, all hybrid, all fully remote or a combination of these.  Our understanding is that there will be no effect on your SEVIS record as long as you remain enrolled full time and otherwise maintain your J-1 status (no unauthorized employment or unauthorized drop below full-time enrollment).

Continuing J-1 students outside the U.S. may enroll in a fully online course load and your SEVIS record will remain active as long as you maintain full-time enrollment in the Fall 2020 semester.

New Students

New J-1 students (including students returning from a Leave of Absence scheduled to start studies in Fall 2020 may begin their studies at Syracuse University in the U.S. or from outside the U.S.

New J-1 students coming to the U.S. for the Fall semester may take a combination of online, in-person or hybrid classes.  We believe that means that new international students must take at least one in-person class.  This could be 100% in person or in a hybrid mode with a meaningful component in person.

New J-1 students outside of the United States may take classes 100% online while they remain outside of the United States.  New international students cannot enter the U.S. to take fully online classes.  These students are not required to be full-time.  They can also choose to defer their admission to Syracuse University and begin their studies in a later semester.

If you remain outside the U.S. (have not entered the U.S. using your DS-2019), J-1 immigration rules do not apply to you.  While you will be able to start your Syracuse University academic career, you will not have started your J-1 student immigration status.  Your J-1 SEVIS record will not be activated in SEVIS in Fall 2020.  It will only be activated after you arrive in the United States and enroll in in-person classes. New students who remain outside the U.S. but enroll for the Fall semester and who plan to arrive in the U.S. for Spring 2021 semester will be sent a new DS-2019 with a January 2021 program start date.  This will occur after the Fall 2020 semester begins.  We will provide information on this process at a later date.

SEVIS Transfer Students

J-1 Students whose SEVIS records have been transferred from another school to Syracuse University for Fall 2020 who remained in the U.S. or have returned to the U.S. will be considered continuing students for Fall 2020.

J-1 Students whose SEVIS records have been transferred from another school to Syracuse University for Fall 2020 who are outside of the U. S. and do not enter the U.S. for Fall 2020, will not have their SEVIS transfer completed.  They may begin their Syracuse University academic career part-time or full-time completely online.  These students will need a new DS-2019 with a January 2021 program start date.  This will occur after the Fall 2020 semester begins.

Mid-Semester Change in Instruction

Should the pandemic again require that colleges and universities change to online instruction only during the semester, students studying in the U.S. will be able to continue studying online from within the United States and maintain their status.

Visas

While U.S. Embassies and Consulates have been closed for Visa Processing for much of the summer, the Department of State announced a phased resumption of routine visa services on July 14, 2020. The resumption of visa services will occur on a post-by-post basis so long as it safe for Department of State personnel to return to work. Students should check with the specific consulate site to its operations.

Travel Restrictions

The Presidential proclamations restricting certain travelers from entering the United States due to COVID-19 remain intact.

The Department of State announced on July 16, 2020 that J-1 students from the Schengen Area, the UK and Ireland who have a valid J-1 visa or who are seeking to apply for a J visa need to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a national interest exception to the travel restriction banning travelers from these areas.   F-1 students are automatically exempt from the proclamation.