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International students forced to take in-person classes, per expiration of COVID-19 exceptions 

On May 12, 2023, the International Programs (IP) emailed all international students at Seattle Colleges to inform them that the March 2020 Temporary Guidance related to COVID-19 for F-1 visa students will expire on Jun. 16, 2023. This was surprisingly short notice not just for students, but also for school departments, faculty, and staff. It was made public only one month prior to the expiration date. This might leave international students in hot water because some classes are still only offered online, so they cannot enroll in classes they are required to take for their programs of study. They now may be forced to take random in-person classes that do not relate to their program. International students also pay significantly more tuition and fees to academically enroll in schools. So, enrolling in classes that are not necessary towards fulfilling their program’s curriculums will lead to unnecessary and considerable economic expense for them and their families.

In March 2020, various health organizations and governments around the world issued temporary guidance related to COVID-19, as the pandemic started to spread globally. These guidelines aimed to provide recommendations for individuals, communities, institutions, and healthcare systems to mitigate the spread of the virus and manage the impact on public health.

Thereby, international students were temporarily allowed to take fully online classes from their home countries or from their homes in the United States (U.S.) until further notice. Typically, this was not allowed in pre-pandemic times.

Other schools in Washington State have been preparing to transition to in-person classes for a year or so already. This means instructors and staff moving to on-campus classes and services.

However, some Seattle Colleges programs and departments still offer mostly or completely online classes, making it difficult for international students to maintain their legal status with their F-1 visa.

Online classes were not a common thing in schools in the era before COVID-19. Students would typically never face these problems. Now, as regular customs have been impacted, things are still a bit unstable. For some, it is still difficult to go back to what used to be “normal.”

Francisco Fonseca | The Seattle Collegian

It is also worth noting that while COVID-19 exceptions were in full effect, students were permitted to request temporary leave if their schools did not offer the online classes needed for full-time enrollment. Understandably, things were flexible. That will no longer be the case after Jun. 16, 2023.

A temporary leave typically refers to a situation where a student takes a break from their academic program and leaves the U.S. for a brief period, usually for personal or academic reasons. During the temporary leave, the student is not enrolled in classes and is not required to maintain full-time student status. However, it is important to consult with the designated school official (DSO) at the educational institution for specific guidance to ensure compliance with immigration regulations.

All international students already in the U.S. before Mar. 9, 2020, were allowed to take full online classes while they were in the U.S. But those who entered after the date were not.

However, students were still allowed to take part-time online classes by letting a DSO know if they could not find a class for their program of study.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program’s COVID-19 guidance ended on May 11, 2023. There will be no more updates on the expiring exceptions. More about this last update can be found here. For the official ICE announcement of the COVID-19 guidance, see here.

Starting in 2023 Summer Quarter , current active F-1 students at the Seattle Colleges must have at least seven credits (approximately two classes) in-person. Hybrid classes with an in-person meeting location will count toward this requirement.

As for students taking classes at the Seattle Colleges Institute of English (SCIE), online courses cannot count toward a full course of study for an English Language training (SCIE) student; All 12 credits of a full course of study must be in-person or hybrid. College-Bridge students (SCIE levels 3, 4, and 5) who are enrolled in 12 or more credits of hybrid/in-person classes may take an additional online course.

To adjust our international students’ academic enrolment mandatory obligations, IP is currently negotiating with school programs to offer more in-person classes for international students.

Francisco Fonseca | The Seattle Collegian

As the 2023 Summer Quarter approaches, students have yet to be alerted about what they must do if they want to lawfully keep their F-1 visa in the U.S. or seek an alternative.

Luckily for some new international students, if you were enrolled during Winter and Spring Quarters in some college-level classes, remained in full-time academic enrollment, and this will be your first summer after your first entry, then you are qualified to take this summer as a vacation quarter. Some students might use this opportunity for the summer to wait until more classes move to in-person in the fall.

To prevent compromising your visa status, or if you think you need help managing your classes, contact your advisor as soon as possible to find a solution. All international students have a designated advisor to help with any concern students may have. Currently, there are only two IP advisors for Central students – located at the IP office. Keeping in mind that Central has the most enrolled international students of all the three Seattle Colleges, short staffing may cause delays in getting a response or scheduling a meeting with an advisor.

Who your designated advisor is depends on the first letter of your last name: For B, C, F, H, K, L, M, P, Q, R, W, X, Z, your advisor is Emily Wright; for letters A, D, E, G, I, J, N, O, S, T, U, V, Y, your advisor is Michelle Barreto. More information on connecting with an advisor can be found here, or contact IntlCentral@seattlecolleges.edu for general questions.

Please, get in touch with your advisor as soon as possible if you need help managing your classes to accommodate the upcoming F-1 visa regulations.

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