- January 30, 2020: US identified its first case of Coronavirus infection;
- March 11, 2020: WHO declared it a global Pandemic;
- March 12, 2020: Travel restrictions put across borders;
- March 13, 2020: President Trump declared a National Emergency.
These dates also coincided with important benchmarks for international students in the US on an F1 visa – Start of the Spring Semester, Spring Break, OPT filings and Graduation Ceremonies.
All impacted due to Coronavirus! And has influenced the future of international students in the US.
As classes were moved online and students asked to vacate dorms and student housing to ensure social distancing, over 1.1 million international students were displaced. Some universities asked their international students to go back to their home countries while the others just said ‘leave until further notice’. Harvard was one of the first universities to send their students home followed by almost every other educational institution.
Current Plight of International Students
- Classes have moved online
All in-person classes have been made virtual. As each state is doing their best to flatten the curve, several colleges do not plan on resuming in person classes until Fall 2020. If social distancing continues beyond that, then they may have to defer the entire course work to 2021.
CDC predicts that intermittent distancing may be required all the way into 2022.
Are you an International Student in the US?
Here’s how US Colleges are helping their students during the Covid crisis
- Summer Classes Cancelled
Given the Covid-19 crisis, summer programs have been cancelled on campuses. Students who were planning on taking classes in the summer lose out on that window. Colleges offer summer programs to students who may want to make up lost credits from past coursework or simply add to their academic curriculum.
Without this option, international students who were counting on summer programs will end up with an extended semester beyond their own course period.
- OPT Suffers
According to SEVP norms, students eligible for OPT are supposed to file for OPT 90 days before graduation and from within the US. With many international students having left the country when asked to vacate student housing, and travel restrictions put across borders, they are unable to come back to apply for the OPT. There is no update from USCIS offering F1 students any flexibility this during the pandemic.
These international students are now left out of OPT options. For the lucky ones that did manage to get through – some employers deferred OPT to December. Others are not so accommodating and have suspended hiring interns altogether.
Is it the end of OPT for international students?
- F1 Visa Validity Concerns
The US Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) mandates that in order to maintain the F1 visa status, international students are allowed to take only one online class per semester.
Since colleges have moved to online instruction, SEVP has confirmed that moving to full-online instruction will not affect the immigration status of enrolled international students who maintain their full course of study online.
Future of Current International Students
Future of students holding F1 visa seems to be unsure now.
According to Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist, “colleges should definitely make plans for delaying start dates and for intermittent closings and re-openings, because epidemiology modeling suggests we may have to go into open and close waves until potentially even 2022!”
A lot of fortune 500 companies in the US rely on international student recruits each year. Today, the pandemic has brought the economy to a standstill. Unemployment has crossed 22 million, Mass layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts have impacted hiring within companies. With hiring freezes across industries, graduating students do not have hope of getting employed anytime this year.
Future of Prospective International Students to the US
With social distancing in mind, most countries have canceled or postponed the administration of qualifying exams like SAT, GRE, TOEFL, and IELTS which are typically required for international students to study in US universities and colleges.
While international student applications for Fall 2020 are still being processed as normal, some universities have decided to defer undergraduate summer applications to fall or even later.
Are you Applying to a College in the US
Here’s step-by-step guide to apply for a F1 visa
A lot of US universities are also offering flexibility on application submission deadlines, required documentation and enrollment evaluations.
With so many uncertainties, students remain hopeful that sooner than later they will be able to return to regular classes and get clarity about their uncertain futures. A vaccine for Coronavirus is the need of the hour!