U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Deadlines
Due to the ongoing pandemic, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had previously extended deadlines for responses to the government’s notices such as requests for evidence (RFEs), Notices of Intent to Deny, Revoke, Rescind, and Terminate proceedings, and filing dates for requests for a hearing, appeal, and related motions. This flexibility was set to expire this month, however, since the COVID pandemic continues in full force, USCIS has now extended the deadlines extension flexibility as to the above listed documents if the issuance date listed on the request, notice or decision is between March 1 and Sept. 11, 2020, inclusive. In practice, this means USCIS will view a response to the above requests and notices received within 60 calendar days after the response due date set in the request or notice to be timely. The government will consider filings for requests for hearing and appeal and related motions received up to 60 calendar days from the date of the decision before taking any action on a given case.
Student and Exchange Visitor Program Modifications
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has announced modifications to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic during the upcoming fall term. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security intends to formalize these changes in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule. Under these modifications, foreign students in F-1 (academic) and M-1 (vocational) visa categories attending schools that offer solely online classes in the fall of 2020 are not allowed to take a full online course load and remain in this country. U.S. consular offices abroad will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools that offer exclusively online program for the fall semester. Foreign students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the U.S. or transfer to schools with in-person classroom instruction in order to maintain their nonimmigrant status. F-1 students attending schools offering regular in-person classes in the fall must comply with the existing regulations that allow them to take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online. F-1s whose schools are adopting a hybrid model (i.e., a combination of online and in person classes) will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online this fall. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that their program is not entirely online, that the foreign student is not taking an entirely online course load, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. Importantly, F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees are not allowed to enroll in any online courses. Alertingly, schools are under obligation to notify the government within 10 days of a change to exclusively online instruction if they begin the fall semester with in-person classes, but have to switch to online classes only, or if a nonimmigrant student changes her course selections, and ends up taking classes solely online. Under this scenario, which, unfortunately, is quite possible during the ever changing pandemic situation, foreign students would have to leave the U.S. or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or a medical leave.