The recent wave of public and private university and college closings due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is only going to increase throughout the United States. Many colleges and universities have already moved to remote instruction with all classes online. The cancellation of all remaining spring and winter sports championships by the NCAA is further evidence that schools are taking the outbreak seriously and not holding events that can encourage the spread of the pandemic. Classes and events with large gatherings of students would only allow for the possibility of the virus spreading.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has published guidance on its website related to the Coronavirus: https://www.ice.gov/sevis/whats-new
The government’s guidance that it is important for students to (1) maintain status, (2) work with employers to maintain practical training agreements, and (3) be cautious traveling. This is indispensable during this period of uncertainty. Students should continue their coursework through online classes. If they have Optional Practical Training (OPT), students should be aware that with many workplaces encouraging work-from-home policies. Students should proactively confirm with their employers in writing the steps taken and of course stay in contact with their International Student Office. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) could also be impacted by changes in employer polices.
ICE has clarified in guidance that “nonimmigrant students can continue to make normal forward progress in their program of study” if they are engaging in study online or in the U.S. This is important because initially schools were advised to terminate SEVIS records if F students departed the U.S. thus taking away future CPT and OPT opportunities.
Further and equally important is that foreign students abroad and within the United States itself must carefully consider travel.
Most schools have Alert or Emergency Notification Systems that utilize text messages or other systems to communicate important information to students, so this would be the primary way to gain emergency information for all students, not just those from abroad. Students should take all precautions as advised by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Information is available at their website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html