The effect of COVID-19 pandemic is a worldwide concern. Many businesses and individual lives have been affected by the spread of this virus. International students under F1 visa and non-immigrant visa workers, such as H1B visa holders, are not exceptions to this situation. As of April 12, 2020, there were 554,849 total cases of coronavirus and 21,942 total deaths in the United States according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.
This pandemic affects current and prospective F1 students. Currently, most universities and colleges are shifting classes and even graduations online. Some universities in the U.S. scrambled to clear out dorms to limit the spread of the virus. According to Quartz, as of March 23, 2020, 72% of the universities told students to leave campus housing. Therefore, international students have been left on their own to make important decisions at this point, and these decisions are certainly not easy. The CDC discourages people from traveling domestically and internationally if not urgent. Thus, international students should likely remain in the U.S. in order to avoid their exposure to the virus. Students choosing to depart the U.S. may not be able to come back or may not be able to come back for extended periods of time. Since January 31, 2020, President Trump has signed four Presidential Proclamations suspending entry to the United States of foreign nationals who were physically present in many countries such as China, Iran, Italy, Spain, France, etc. within the 14 days preceding entry or attempted entry into the U.S. This may in turn affect a wide variety of non-immigrant visa holders including F1 visa holders.
International students who need to follow their university policies and their respective states’ stay-at-home orders have no choice but to take their classes online which may concern student visa status, since U.S immigration regulation typically permit international students to take one online class a semester. According to the New York Times, currently at least 316 million people and 42 states are being urged to stay home. However, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) provides universities with guidelines for M and F visa holders who are currently enrolled in a program of study and these guidelines are not intended to be applied to prospective students or initial students who are outside of the U.S. In these guidelines universities can provide online classes that will not affect the immigration status of international students who maintain their full courses online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many international students plan to finish their studies and take advantage of one-year post-graduation work permits, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). Considering the situation that these students currently encounter, gaining work experience after graduation is in a state of uncertainty. Students who are currently in OPT status also need to pay close attention to U.S. immigration updates. SEVP advises students in OPT status to consult with their employers to maintain employment through teleworking or other means.
This pandemic also affects many prospective international students in various ways. Some students are still in the process of applying for universities and need to take TOEFL, GMAT, or GRE exams. However, due to health and safety concerns test administrations have been postponed in some locations all around the world. This could prove extremely challenging for prospective students who already received their admission and attended a visa interview, those waiting on the issuance of a visa, or even those who have received visas but due to President Trump’s various Presidential Proclamations regarding travel restrictions may not be able to enter the country.
F1 students, particularly those in OPT status or those who have already transferred their visa status to H1B may need to consider their options of applying for an immigrant visa, if they may be eligible, while they are currently residing in the U.S. These options include but are not limited to Employment-Based Second Preference (EB2), Employment-Based Third Preference (EB3), or Employment-Based Second Preference with a National Interest Waiver (EB2/NIW).
If the coronavirus pandemic affects your nonimmigrant status or if you would like to know how you may extend your stay in the U.S. status during the coronavirus pandemic, we encourage you to contact an expert immigration attorney. The Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, P.C. is committed to continue providing legal services to both new and existing clients who require assistance and advice with their immigration status.