Dear Deans, Chairs, and Graduate Coordinators,
I hope this email finds you and your loved ones well despite these ever-more challenging times. Today, I am reaching out with substantive information in the wake of this week’s ICE/SEVP guidance. I apologize for the length of this message, but we want to ensure that all of this information reaches you. Please share widely with your faculty and staff. We are simultaneously messaging this information to all international graduate students, too.
At approximately 3 p.m. on Monday, July 6, 2020, ICE and SEVP issued unexpected guidance outlining new requirements for international students who are studying in the U.S. on F-1 visas. Essentially, the guidance announced that regardless of university plans regarding mode of instruction this fall, all F-1 visa holders must enroll in a minimum of one in-person class this fall in order to maintain their visas and stay in the U.S. If a student is unable or unwilling to do so for any reason, they will lose their F-1 visa and have to return to their home country. Here you can read the full ICE Broadcast Message
This was a shocking and terrible announcement that has sent ripples of fear, anger, and confusion throughout the international student community and across campuses, coast-to-coast. UNLV has been clear in our collective response to this guidance: we stand with our international community of students and scholars and we greatly value their contributions to our university community. This sudden new requirement placed upon our international students during this time of pandemic crisis is, to put it mildly, extremely upsetting. That said, we must comply with this federal regulation and we are working hard to find ways to support our international students. We have worked collaboratively since Monday afternoon to collect questions, research answers, and develop plans to protect our international students’ F-1 visas and allow them to continue with their fall enrollment.
What follows are a series of answers to common questions in the wake of the ICE/SEVP guidance. I’m certain that there are other specific questions that will arise. For specific questions about F-1 visas and related requirements, students should contact the Office of International Students and Scholars staff at (702) 774-6477 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
. Please send your other questions that are graduate specific to InternationalGrad@unlv.edu
and please cc: me at Graduate.Dean@unlv.edu
. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible and update the FAQs to reflect the additional questions and answers on our COVID-19 webpage
under Information for International Students, which will be available after Monday, July 13. Please watch this webpage as we’ll continue to update information here
beginning on July 14.
MOST COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What are the main issues for our students and what is the Office of International Students and Scholars doing to support them?
OISS has been a tremendous leader on this issue and continues to be a strong advocate for our international students. We are in close touch with them and our Graduate College team is working with the OISS team to collect all F-1 visa holder forms and issue new I-20s, per the new ICE/SEVP guidance. Please see this helpful infographic
that OISS is distributing widely to address this issue.
How many graduate students are impacted by the new ICE/SEVP guidance regarding F-1 visa holders?
We have approximately 61 incoming new international graduate students this fall, though many will not be able to receive their visas in time for the upcoming semester. We are working closely with them to get the newly required I-20s and to enroll in fall or roll over their admission until next semester.
We have approximately 309 current international graduate students. Of these, about 17 returned to their home countries due to the COVID-19 crisis, and we believe that about 292 are currently in the U.S.
So, what do graduate students have to do to remain in compliance and retain their F-1 visas this fall?
Students must meet all the standard visa requirements, including enroll in a minimum of 9 graduate credits each semester unless the F-1 visa holder is a GA, in which case they must enroll in a minimum of 6 graduate credits each semester. Under the new guidance, F-1 visa holders must enroll in and complete at least one in-person class this fall semester
What counts as an in-person class for F-1 students this fall?
Our current understanding of the guidance is that courses that have the following characteristics in MyUNLV will NOT be considered in-person:
- Instruction mode is web-based
- Room is remote learning
However, all course types that have at least some in-person component (such as required meeting attendance, in-person exams, lab work, etc.) will be considered in-person, even if no room is listed in MyUNLV. So, all graduate classes that are not specifically designated as remote or web-based will count as in-person classes for visa purposes because they would each have some face-to-face component. This includes: thesis and dissertation credits, independent study courses (and similar classes), classes designated as on campus (WB in MyUNLV) or hybrid (including remote with on-campus meetings, exams, etc.), and classes that are coded as department arranged or off-campus.
In-person classes need not meet entirely face-to-face. There just needs to be an in-person aspect of some sort, even arranged between the faculty member and student. The ICE/SEVP guidance is intended to ensure that F1 students are in the city where they are studying and engaged in in-person instruction for at least one class. OISS and the Graduate College are suggesting a standard 3-credit in-person class, when possible, but we believe that 1-credit classes should suffice, if necessary, based on the student’s degree program and if this is the only option available.
Please also note that with OISS approval, the Graduate College is allowing students in thesis and dissertation tracks to begin enrolling in thesis and dissertation credits early to support student progression despite the challenges of COVID-19. This means that for the fall and spring semesters of AY20-21, with graduate coordinator and advisor approval, we will allow any thesis or dissertation track students to enroll in thesis or dissertation credits to develop and advance their research, scholarship, or creative activities even if they have not yet defended their thesis/dissertation prospectus.
Given all of this, we are confident that UNLV’s hybrid instruction during fall 2020 will allow ample options for F-1 students to enroll in at least one in-person class. If you want to change the designation of any of your courses, please reach out to the Registrar, Sam Fugfazotto, and Vice Provost Brent Drake for additional information and assistance. Should any graduate programs or F-1 students have a problem meeting this requirement, I urge graduate coordinators to work with chairs, college dean’s offices, the Graduate College, and/or OISS to find an appropriate option for each of your F-1 students. We are here to help.
What if UNLV must return to remote instruction at any point (this summer or during the semester) due to a worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Provost’s office, OISS, and the Graduate College are fully committed to supporting our international students. While we do not have any control over the COVID-19 situation, Governor Sisolak’s mandates, or NSHE requirements to protect public health and the safety of our community, we will find a way to continue to offer some in-person classes – with all necessary public health precautions – for our F-1 students to appropriately meet all requirements to retain their visas. In short, we are making a commitment to deliver in-person instruction to international students even if the broader campus context changes.
What if an international student cannot be in Las Vegas to take one in-person class this semester?
New, incoming international students may work with our Admissions team and roll over their admission until spring or fall 2021 or enroll 100% remotely without a visa (see below for GA implications of fully remote enrollment). Under the circumstances, we are facilitating free rollovers and application updates for these students due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Current F-1 students who cannot be in Las Vegas this semester or opt not to take at least one in-person class should complete both the OISS Leave of Absence form and the standard graduate leave of absence form in their Grad Rebel Gateway. We will happily welcome them back when they are again able to enroll.
What about international students who hold an F-1 visa but returned to their home country and would like to study remotely from there this semester?
There is some uncertainty about this particular situation; but as we understand it today, these students would lose their F-1 visa if they do not return to Las Vegas and take at least one in-person class (see above for definition of “in-person”) this fall semester. They may enroll as remote-only students, but without an F-1 visa these remote students would not be able to hold a graduate assistant position or any other employment at UNLV.
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT GRADUATE ASSISTANTS
How does the ICE/SEVP guidance impact graduate assistants?
It does not address F-1 visa holders' campus work as a GA, student worker, LOA, PTI, etc. The requirement only mandates enrollment in one in-person graduate class this semester.
Does the new requirement impact GA teaching assignments?
No. International students just need to enroll in one graduate in-person class this semester to ensure continuity of their F-1 visa status. Beyond that, these students may do up to 20 hours of campus work per week as per usual, and this work may be in-person or remote.
Can international students who are not in the U.S., enrolled in all remote classes, and do not have an F1 visa be employed as GAs?
Unfortunately, we’ve been told that the answer is firmly no. GAs must have a visa and social security number to receive any financial payment or benefits from the university. To do so, the student must be in the U.S. enrolled in a minimum of one in-person class this semester.
ACTION ITEM: REQUIRED ENROLLMENT VERIFICATION FORM FOR ISSUANCE OF NEW I-20s
International students on F-1 visas must work with their academic advisors to complete a verification form for the fall 2020 semester to help identify their planned on-campus enrollment for immigration compliance purposes. For this time-sensitive process, new and current international students’ forms may be reviewed, approved, and signed by the student’s chair, graduate coordinator, program coordinator, academic advisor, or academic dean or designee -- so long as that individual is able to provide academic advisement about the student’s best course of action for fall enrollment, specifically in at least one in-person class.
The Graduate College has reached out to all new international students and their graduate coordinators and department chairs to request that a verification form be completed so that a new I-20 verifying compliance with the SEVP guidance can be issued to the student ASAP. Please work with your international students as soon as possible to complete these forms and return them to the Graduate College so that this process does not disrupt students’ plans for fall enrollment at UNLV.
OISS has reached out to all continuing international students to work with them on the issuance of new I-20s. Please support the timely completion of these forms so that your current students’ visa statuses are not disrupted. Thank you for making this a priority despite it being summer!
Once this form is submitted, the Graduate College and OISS will work as quickly as possible to process them. OISS will email current international students with their new I-20 as soon as they are able to do so. The Graduate College is handling the new incoming international students’ I-20s and we are going to pay to ship these new I-20s to all incoming international students so that the unfair burden of this expense does not fall to them and to ensure speedy delivery. Thank you for your patience as we work through this process.
UNLV is a member of NAFSA, an association of international educators, and they are publishing extremely helpful information and articles about the SEVP Guidance of 7/6/20. Please visit the NAFSA website
and check back often as they are posting regular updates.
The Council of Graduate Schools issued a response
to the SEVP guidance.
The Council of Graduate Schools has also signed on to the American Council on Education’s (ACE) community letter
urging the Department of Homeland Security to rescind the guidance and instead offer international students a temporary exemption to allow them to take their courses online (in part or exclusively) for academic year 2020-21. ACE is circulating a sign-on letter
for institutions and I’ve confirmed with Provost Heavey that UNLV intends to be a signatory.
If you would like to advocate for international students, here are some talking points
related to the harmful nature of this guidance from the Council of Graduate Schools.
We know this is an incredibly challenging time for international students, their families, friends, colleagues, and mentors. I join you in your frustration and worry and we stand firmly with our international community of students and scholars. Please join us in helping to amplify this message: international students are welcome and belong here, they are valued, and we will do everything in our power to support our student’s degree progression and completion so that they can realize their dreams.
For specific questions about F-1 visas and related requirements, students should contact the Office of International Students and Scholars staff at (702) 774-6477 or email email@example.com
. For questions about specific graduate student requirements or graduate questions please email InternationalGrad@unlv.edu
and please cc: me at Graduate.Dean@unlv.edu
Thank you for your continued support of all students, particularly international students in this moment. Please watch your email for additional email messages early next week regarding new COVID-19 accommodations and information for summer and fall, as well as specific information regarding fall GAs. Finally, and as always, please let us know if we can answer any questions or do anything to better support you and them. We’re here, we’re listening, and we care deeply.
Take care and be well,