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IMPORTANT UPDATE: the Trump Administration has withdrawn the July 6 guidance that would have negatively affected the status of thousands of international students. Following this decision, please expect updated guidance and frequently asked questions (FAQs) from the International Center by Thursday, July 16. We also encourage you to join us for our Special Forum scheduled for 10am, July 16, when we will provide updated Fall 2020 rules and regulations. The existing FAQs listed below will be updated by Thursday, July 16.

On July 6, 2020 the Department of Homeland Security announced guidance regarding F-1 immigration requirements for F-1 students for the Fall 2020 semester. To assist students, we have developed this Frequently Asked Questions. This page is being updated constantly as more questions and information becomes available. Please check back frequently.

Last Update: July 14, 2020 at 4:30pm

July 6 ICE Guidance for Fall 2020: General Overview and Response

On July 6, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced new guidance for F-1 students for the Fall 2020 semesters. This guidance sets out rules for schools and F-1 students to follow for the Fall 2020 semester regarding course registration and immigration status. Unfortunately, the guidance removes much of the flexibility that was given to students and schools earlier in the year, when schools and students were allowed to transition to on-line education due to the COVID-19 emergency. As a result, the Fall 2020 guidance, which was introduced at a very late point in the summer, has forced schools to rapidly re-evaluate their Fall 2020 plans.

Summary

As it currently stands, the ICE guidance indicates that if you are an F-1 student, your Fall 2020 enrollment requirements will depend on whether your school has declared that they will be teaching classes entirely on-line, in-person, or through a 'hybrid' combination of on-line and in-person classes. These rules can be summarized as follows:

  • On-line: Students starting or coming to an entirely on-line program are not eligible to enter or remain in the US in F-1 student status; however, students are allowed to start or continue their classes on-line from outside the US
  • In-person: Students coming to programs that are primarily or entirely in-person are eligible to enter and/or remain in the US in F-1 student status; however, students can count only one on-line class toward full-time study
  • Hybrid: Students coming to programs that are offering a mixture of on-line and in-person classes are eligible to enter and/or remain in the US in F-1 student status; however, students must take at least one in-person class (students cannot maintain status by taking only on-line classes)

One of the major challenges that schools are facing is deciding how their Fall 2020 programs will be structured. Programs that are fully on-line for Fall 2020 are now considering options for offering in-person classes in order to support F-1 status for certain students. Please note that the International Center is working actively across Tufts schools and programs to review Fall 2020 semester plans in light of the new ICE guidance. This is an evolving area under intensive review at this time (7/12/2020).

Yes. The guidance was met with immediate legal challenges. At present, there are several actions being taken to challenge the new ICE rules, including lawsuits filed by Harvard and MIT, the Attorney General of the state of California, and Johns Hopkins University, among others. On July 13, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts joined other states in also filing a suit against the Department of Homeland Security.

A good place to get updates on the current legal challenges to the ICE guidance is through this resource page maintained by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Note that there are new developments occurring almost everyday and the legal landscape may change quite rapidly.

The International Center supports these legal challenges to the ICE guidance, which was issued at a very late point in the summer after many schools had already made their plans for the Fall 2020 semester. At the same time, we are working with our schools and colleges on contingency plans so that we are able to protect our students in case the guidance does become official.

Tufts is actively engaged in efforts to oppose what we believe is an inhumane and inflexible policy that limits our ability to continue our educational programs while protecting the safety of our students, faculty, and staff in the face of an ongoing worldwide pandemic.

  • President Monaco issued a message to the University Community on July 8 expressing the University's vehement opposition to this policy and steps it is taking in response
  • The University has submitted an amicus brief supporting the Harvard and MIT lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security
  • The University has filed a declaration supporting a legal suit brought by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, joined by other states, against the Department of Homeland Security
  • The International Center has outlined its response to the policy and is working active with schools and department to create program-specific solutions needed to protect the status of students
  • The International Center is also conducting a series of open forums and information sessions for students and departments regarding the implications of the July 6 guidance
  • University staff are working in collaboration with other Boston-area and national universities to develop joint actions and joint communications to oppose the guidance

Please continue to check back as these developments and initiatives are very much ongoing at this point.

We have appreciated the many comments and concerns received from concerned Tufts alums, staff, and family members regarding the July 6 guidance. We are taking your comments into account and deeply appreciate the concern that we all share regarding the ICE guidance. We are taking your comments into account as we develop our plans.

We also encourage any concerned citizen or Tufts community member to express their views about government policies and actions by contacting their congressional representatives and other elected officials. With respect to the most recent July 6 guidance:

  • Stay informed by reading up on the guidance, rather than relying solely on media reports. NAFSA: Association of International Educators is providing detailed summaries of ongoing developments through its resource page.
  • Write to the immigration policy staff of your US senators and/or congressional representatives to express your views regarding the Fall 2020 Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidance for F-1 international students.
  • Write to your state governor and other state elected officials to express your views regarding the Fall 2020 Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidance for F-1 international students.

Resources for finding your elected officials and representatives can be found through this federal directory. To find your congressional representative by ZIP code, use this House directory.

No, the July 6 announcement from ICE applies only to F-1 students and only for the Fall 2020 semester. It does not have any relevance for students in other visa categories, or for staff, researchers / scholars, faculty and employees on other types of non-immigrant visas (e.g., J-1 or H-1B or other visa types).

No, the guidance does not concern students who are on Optional Practical Training. OPT rules and regulations remain unchanged by this guidance.

Guidance on On-line, Hybrid, and In-Person Programs

If you are outside the US and expecting to start your program this fall semester, but your program is fully on-line, you will not be eligible to come to the US as an F-1 student. You may start taking classes from your home country, however.

Under the ICE guidance, only students coming to in-person or hybrid programs are eligible for F-1 student status.

If you are already an F-1 student inside the US, your status can be maintained if you are in a "hybrid" program that is going to offer you a combination of in-person and on-line classes. The primary difference is that an on-line class does not require you to be on campus. An in-person class requires you to be on campus for all or part of the class, to complete academic activities that are integral to the class. If you are taking a class that offers both options, you should take the option which has an on-campus / in-person component.

Based on the July 6 guidance, under "hybrid" program rules, you cannot take only on-line classes - you must have at least one in-person class.

PLEASE NOTE: the International Center is actively engaging with our schools and departments regarding hybrid programs. This is a topic that is under active review and ongoing development (7/7/2020).

For Tufts programs that are following a 'hybrid' model, the requirement is that you cannot take only on-line classes - you must take at least one 'in-person' class (see the next tab). However, if you are taking an in-person class, the other classes can be on-line. How many on-line classes you take should be the minimum needed to help you make progress toward your degree. There is no maximum.

This is different from traditional regulations that operate when programs are mainly in-person, such as what applied before the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. Under these traditional regulations, only one on-line class can be counted toward your full-time enrollment. Other classes must be in-person. Anything above full-time enrollment can be in-person or on-line.

An in-person class is a class that either:

  1. is taught primarily or predominantly through in-person instruction, e.g, on-campus lectures, labs, or other activity; or
  2. is taught primarily through on-line instruction, but also includes in-person components required for persons on campus, such as in-person examinations, discussion groups, laboratories, studio work, or other activities that are an integral part of course completion and evaluation

An on-line class is a class that does not meet either (a) or (b), and therefore does not involve any in-person attendance for all, most, or some of the class. The regulations do not specify an exact set of rules regarding "how much" of a class must involve in-person activities in order for it to count as an in-person class. The only requirement is that the in-person components must be a part of the course and include activities that you need to do in order to complete the course.

In general we do not consider the following types of credits or classes to be on-line classes. They are therefore in-person, even if they may involve on-line elements:

  • Thesis or dissertation research credits
  • TA/RA credits
  • Internship, practicum, or fieldwork credits
  • Classes requiring on-site studio work or workshop activity
  • Physical education credits
  • Directed research credits

For graduate students who have finished courses and have moved on to thesis or dissertation research, you are considered to be working 'in-person' as long as you register for the appropriate thesis / dissertation credits. You do need to continue to maintain full-time enrollment while you are in the US, however.

 

If the July 6 guidance rules go into effect, the International Center will be required to verify that students are not taking only on-line classes. At least one in-person class is mandatory. We will do this based on how the class is categorized in the Student Information System (SIS).

  • Virtual classes are considered to be on-line classes that don't have an in-person component.
  • Hybrid classes are considered classes that have both on-line and in-person components. For international students taking hybrid classes, the classes can count as "in-person" only if they fulfill the in-person components of the classes
  • In-person classes are classes that are taught primarily in-person.

Example: an F-1 student will be in compliance with the July 6 guidance if at least one class is either "hybrid" or "in-person" in SIS. All other classes may be "virtual."

When determining whether or not a student is complying with the on-line / in-person restrictions, the International Center will review official school records, and particularly on how courses are categorized or labeled in the Student Information System or equivalent records. We will not be monitoring the week-to-week activities for each individual course to decide whether it is on-line or in-person, etc. We assume that how a course is labeled in SIS or the equivalent accurately reflects whether the course is on-line, in-person, or hybrid.

For example, if we see that a student's courses are labeled entirely "on-line," we may need to advise the student to register for at least one in-person or hybrid course, assuming that student is inside the US.

Please note that the International Center is working actively with our academic counterparts to regarding class labeling and categorization to ensure their accuracy to course content and to immigration requirements.

We acknowledge that the possibility of a late-semester change to class and campus operations may be needed if COVID-19 conditions deteriorate and the University has to take steps to protect students, faculty, and staff.

However, the International Center will report compliance based on the totality of the semester - i.e., on a student's enrollment for the entire semester, not for any late-semester adjustments that faculty may need to make. The new guidance indicates that students are prohibited from changing classes or courses if that will lead them into a situation of being enrolled in only on-line classes. In the circumstance where no change of officially registered classes takes place, we will consider the student to still be in compliance for the semester.

Guidance for Students Outside the US

No. There is nothing in the guidance which requires you to come to the US to study for the Fall 2020 semester, regardless of how your classes are being taught.

  • Students enrolled in programs that are offering only on-line courses cannot come or return to the US in F-1 status
  • Students enrolled in programs that are offering in-person or hybrid (a mix of in-person and on-line classes) can come or return to the US in F-1 status, but are not required to if the student does not want to, or cannot, return for the Fall 2020 semester

However, continuing / returning students should know that depending on the exact situation, the International Center may need to temporarily deactivate your I-20 if you are outside the US for the Fall 2020 semester (or longer). Deactivation of the I-20 is required in cases where the student is not engaged in full-time US based study. See the next tab for more information about deactivating / reactivating I-20s.

If you will not be physically inside the US, engaged in full-time study, in any given semester, Tufts is required to deactivate your I-20 and SEVIS record. This indicates that you asked for and were given approval by the International Center to leave the US for the term. Note that deactivation is NOT needed when you are outside the US due to the following situations:

  • You are engaged in full-time study in a Tufts-approved study abroad program (full-time enrollment in study abroad credits required)
  • You are a graduate student no longer taking courses but engaged in full-time research (full-time enrollment in thesis or dissertation research credits required)
  • You are on a summer vacation
  • You are on an approved medical leave of absence, and have chosen to go home for all or part of the term to continue treatment

A deactivation is not a violation of immigration status but an updating of the your record to reflect your situation. However, when you are planning to come back, you may either need to get a reactivated I-20 or apply for a new I-20.

  • Reactivation is available if the leave of absence is no more than one semester. A reactivation request can be made up to 60 days before the start of the next term. The International Center will submit a request on your behalf and the request is subject to Department of Homeland Security approval. If DHS grants reactivation, you can use your current I-20 and SEVIS record to re-enter the US within 30 days before the start of your term. Students whose records are reactivated are allowed to count time previously spent in the US as an F-1 student toward practical training (CPT/OPT) eligibility.
  • Reapplication for a new I-20 will mean applying with the International Center for a brand new I-20, which will also have a new SEVIS ID number and require a new SEVIS fee payment. Students who come back on a new I-20 / new SEVIS ID number will need to study for two semesters on a full-time basis before re-establishing practical training eligibility.

Regardless of whether returning on a reactivated or new I-20, you may use your existing. F-1 entry visa as long as the visa is not expired on the date of your return to the US.

Note: the International Center is waiting for further guidance from the Department of Homeland Security to get clarity on exactly when and under what situations a reactivation will be possible for different Fall 2020 scenarios. Please wait for further updates and instructions.

If you are a graduate student and enrolled in full-time thesis or dissertation credits, but will be staying outside the US to do your research activities, your F-1 SEVIS record and I-20 will be maintained in active status.

Students may be concerned about a 'five month' rule that dictates the I-20 and SEVIS record must be deactivated if the student is outside the US for 5+ months. However, this rule was temporarily suspended during Spring and Summer 2020, and would not apply in any event to graduate students who are maintaining full-time enrollment while doing their research outside the US.

July 6 Guidance on Visas and Updated I-20s

The July 6 guidance from ICE does not affect the standard F-1 visa rules for entering the US.

  • You need an F-1 visa to enter the US if you are coming to start, resume, or continue your studies at Tufts (or another US college / university). If you do not have a valid F-1 visa, you must obtain one before you can come to the US to study. Note that Canadian citizens do not need visas; however, to request student status they still need an I-20 when entering the US. See our Travel section for standard F-1 travel rules.
  • If you already have a valid F-1 visa that is unexpired, you can continue to use it up to the date of expiration or until it is canceled by a visa or customs officer. You may use a previously issued visa, as long as you have a valid I-20 from the school (e.g., Tufts) you are planning to attend.
  • Your visa can be expired while you are in the US, since the visa is only needed to enter the US. However, you cannot extend the visa while inside the US - visas are extended only at US consulates outside the US.

Please keep in mind that at present, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, worldwide US consular and visa operations are currently closed. Students in specific locations may be able to schedule appointments on a case-by-case basis, however.

However, according to the guidance, Tufts may need to issue a new or updated I-20 to you if you plan to come to the US for the Fall 2020 term and have a visa appointment. Please see the tab below regarding I-20 reissuance and visa appointments.

The July 6 ICE guidance indicates that schools will need to reissue I-20s for all students who plan to come to the US this fall. The International Center, along with other colleges and universities, is reviewing these instructions. Please bear with us, as fully complying with the guidance will require reprinting thousands of new forms.

Until we have final guidance or new instructions, the International Center will be following these steps:

Priority Rules for Form I-20 Reissuance

  1. If you have a visa appointment during the month of July or August, please write to internationalcenter@tufts.edu and provide us with your full name, student ID, school, and visa appointment date / time.
  2. If you are outside the US and plan to re-enter the country during the month of July, please write to internationalcenter@tufts.edu and provide us with your full name, student ID, and visa appointment date / time.
  3. If you are planning to enter or re-enter the US during August or later, please wait for further instructions about I-20 redelivery.
  4. If you are  already in the US and you are not planning on traveling in the near future, please wait for further announcements; no new I-20s will be generated at this time.
  5. If you are planning on staying outside the US for the Fall 2020 semester, or if you will be on a leave of absence or gap year for the upcoming term / year, no new I-20 needs to be produced for you at this time.

Based on guidance from US Homeland Security and the US Department of State, any updated I-20s will be generated and delivered via e-mail to your Tufts e-mail address or email of record attached to your admission file (for new students). We will keep you updated as this is an evolving area that may depend on the outcome of current legal challenges.