Updates on Fall 2021 SEVP COVID-19 Guidance

SEVP has not yet issued specific guidance for Fall 2021. On March 18, 2021, NAFSA joined the American Council on Education (ACE) and 40 other organizations in a letter to Secretaries Mayorkas (DHS) and Blinken (DOS) urging the agencies to take steps to prepare for the Fall 2021 semester, including:

  • timely and efficient processing of visa applications, and of employment authorization applications related to OPT
  • waiving the in-person interview requirement for students as much as possible, or allow for online interviews
  • issuing ICE guidance for the coming fall as soon as possible, and allow students to enter the U.S. for study even if school will be entirely online
  • extending the exemption for students to allow travel from all the COVID travel restricted countries, not just from the European Schengen area, the U.K., and Ireland

Spring 2021 SEVP COVID-19 Guidance

NAFSA signed on to a multi-association letter led by the American Council on Education (ACE), asking SEVP to issue COVID-19 guidance for the Spring 2021 term "as soon as possible," and to provide for "maximum flexibility." Read the December 4, 2020 letter. A December 9, 2020 Inside Higher Education Quick Takes article reported that:

"Federal guidance for enrolling international students in programs operating in hybrid or online modes due to the pandemic remains the same for the spring term, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program said Tuesday... 'Nonimmigrant students should continue to abide by SEVP guidance originally issued in March 2020,' said the spokeswoman, Carissa Cutrell. 'The guidance enables schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19.'"

NAFSA confirmed with SEVP the accuracy of the reporting in that article.

SEVP COVID-19 Guidance for the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 Terms

SEVP's COVID-19 guidance for the Fall, 2020 term was based on the following documents under the agreement between the parties in the Harvard/M.I.T. case, which returned Fall 2020 guidance to the March 2020 policy "status quo" that existed prior to SEVP's rescinded July 6, 2020 guidance. ICE’s master page of COVID-19 guidance contains links to the below SEVP COVID-19 guidance under “Nonimmigrant Students and SEVP-Certified Schools."

On December 9, 2020, NAFSA confirmed with SEVP that guidance for the Spring 2021 term will be the same as for Fall 2020.

  1. March 9, 2020 policy directive, Broadcast Message 2003-01: COVID-19 and Potential Procedural Adaptations for F and M Students. Provides guidance on potential procedural adaptations for F and M nonimmigrant students, including adaptations to online coursework policies.

  2. March 12, 2020 Optional Coronavirus School Reporting Template. Optional template for reporting school COVID-19 procedural changes to SEVP. The template states, “Schools are encouraged to provide additional details regarding their emergency operations plans beyond the questions detailed in this template.” NAFSA note: The link to this template now contains a (Mar. 2021) updated date. However, SEVP confirmed to NAFSA that the date indicates only that a broken link was fixed.

  3. March 13, 2020 scenarios. COVID-19: Guidance for SEVP Stakeholders. SEVP follow-up to its March 9, 2020 guidance, identifying three common scenarios related to emergency procedures implemented by SEVP-certified schools: 1) A school completely closes and does not have online courses or other alternate learning procedures; 2) A school temporarily stops in-person classes but implements online or other alternate learning procedures and the nonimmigrant student remains in the United States; and 3) A school temporarily stops in-person classes but implements online or other alternate learning procedures and the nonimmigrant student departs the United States.

  4. July 24, 2020 broadcast message. Broadcast Message 2007-02: Follow-up: ICE continues March guidance for fall school term. On July 24, 2020, SEVP posted a broadcast message to clarify certain aspects of applying the March 2020 "status quo" guidance in the context of the Fall 2020 term.

  5. August 7, 2020 FAQs. SEVP posted a revised set of COVID-19 FAQs dated August 7, 2020 at www.ice.gov/doclib/coronavirus/covid19faq.pdf, which merged its July 24 "Clarifying Questions" and its July 15 FAQs into a single document, revising some of the FAQs "to reflect the fall 2020 semester," and to archive and rescind certain FAQs that were "specific to the spring or summer semester."

  6. August 7, 2020 broadcast message. Broadcast Message 2008-01: New Process: Reporting School Procedural Adaptations to SEVP. SEVP changed the email address for submitting school COVID-19 operational plans and updates, as well as several other particulars regarding the process.

There are still gaps between the "status quo" policy and the Fall 2020/Spring 2021 reality. See the following NAFSA resources that discuss this topic in detail.

For research and reference only

Note: the documents linked below were rescinded on July 14, 2020, and no longer represent SEVP Fall 2020 policy. They are included below only for research and reference purposes.

Rescinded SEVP Fall 2020 guidance: On July 6, 2020 SEVP published Broadcast Message 2007-01 - COVID-19 and Fall 2020, which was later rescinded as a result of an agreement arising out of the lawsuit filed by Harvard and M.I.T. (July 14, 2020). Under the rescinded guidance, some flexibility would have continued for schools that adopt an in-person or hybrid model for Fall 2020, but would not have continued for students in the United States studying at schools operating entirely online for Fall 2020. In addition, by August 4, 2020 schools would have had to reissue all Forms I-20 after updating SEVIS with a statement in the Form I-20 Remarks field that "the school is not operating entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program." Lastly, all schools would have had to update their operational plans by July 15, 2020 for schools that will be entirely online or will not reopen for Fall 2020 and by August 1, 2020 for schools that will offer an in-person or hybrid program for Fall 2020. On July 7, 2020, SEVP published a Fall 2020 FAQ document, which was also rescinded. Prior to this, on July 10, 2020, Dr. Esther Brimmer, NAFSA Executive Director and CEO, sent a letter to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) asking the agency to takes steps to revise the guidance immediately to once again allow continuing students within the United States to enroll in a full online course of study and to allow schools to maintain SEVIS records in Active status for all continuing students enrolled in online studies outside the United States, among other suggestions.

Also see NAFSA's Fall 2020 Guidance Litigation page.