We reached out to our international students in response to the broadcast message posted by the Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) on July 6, 2020. As you are aware, SEVP issued guidance to allow for schools to adapt their course instructions to remote, due to COVID-19, for the spring and summer 2020 semesters. While SEVP offered flexibility with remote instruction for spring and summer, the communication released on July 6 does not offer the same level of flexibility for the fall 2020 semester.
While we expect further clarification from SEVP related to this communication, and subsequent adaptations from the University to accommodate our students, the ISSO wanted to touch base now to offer some explanation of this new rule, and to hopefully answer some questions you may have about your fall enrollment at UMass Lowell.
The new communication would appear to indicate that, because UMass Lowell is offering in-person, online and “hybrid” model courses within academic programs, an F-1 student can maintain their lawful full-time student status in the US. However, international students cannot take online courses exclusively and will need to take some form of in-person courses along with online courses. So, while there is continued flexibility on the part of SEVP as it relates to the registration in more than one online course, an on-campus, physical presence requirement will persist for the fall 2020 semester.
Further, we understand there may be an interest amongst students to return to or remain in their home countries, taking online courses from abroad. While this may be a possibility, the SEVP guidance would indicate that a student’s absence from the US, though registered for classes towards the completion of their academic program, would require ISSO to terminate their visa status in SEVIS. There are potential options to reactivate your SEVIS record at a later date, allowing for your return in a subsequent semester, and the ISSO will offer additional guidance on that in the coming weeks.
This new guidance will undoubtedly cause anxiety and concern as you work through your UMass Lowell degree program to pursue your personal and professional goals. We understand that there are many unanswered questions, some of which we cannot answer at this time until either additional guidance is issued or policy has been created as a result thereof. With that in mind, the ISSO wanted to reiterate the following:
Please know that UMass Lowell has the interest of our international student population in mind and are working diligently to make accommodations that will most benefit and protect our students. University leadership recognizes the value our international student population offers to the UMass Lowell community, and will act tirelessly to ensure you will have the best educational experience going forward. We thank you for your patience as we continue to navigate these unprecedented times in the field of student immigration and ensure that the ISSO and University in general will offer updated, comprehensive guidance as new information is learned.
Executive Director, ISSO