In a March 16, 2020 letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership, NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Esther Brimmer requested DHS exercise its discretion to allow for flexibility in adjudication of benefit requests and status determinations for international students and scholars who are impacted by COVID-19 and the measures institutions of higher education are taking in response to it.
The letter specifically asks DHS to:
- Publish a Special Student Relief notice in the Federal Register.
- Accept and adjudicate benefit requests that are filed outside filing windows and deadlines or otherwise at variance with regulatory deadlines or form instructions, including waiving the optional practical training (OPT) filing windows established by 8 CFR 214.2(f)(11)(i)(B)(2) and allowing F-1 and M-1 students to apply for OPT while they are physically present outside the United States.
- Allow F, M, and J nonimmigrants to enter or reenter the United States based on their Initial or Active SEVIS record, without the need for a paper Form I-20 or DS-2019 or travel signature.
- Develop a written policy to provide that DHS will consider a student, scholar, or dependent to have continuously maintained his or her F, M, or J nonimmigrant status for purposes of future eligibility for immigration benefits and otherwise, where a school or exchange visitor program properly maintains the student, exchange visitor, or dependent's SEVIS record in Active SEVIS status under a COVID-19 adaptation, regardless of the individual's physical location being abroad or within the United States.
- Provide for flexibility in school reporting requirements.
- Disable any date-based automatic SEVIS actions during the COVID-19 emergency.
- Not count time spent unemployed during the COVID-19 emergency towards the post-completion OPT and STEM OPT unemployment limits.
- Make clear that DHS's goal is the health and well-being of all involved.