Southeast Mo. State announces plans to maintain strong international student population

Southeast leaders react to federal rules

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Leaders at Southeast Missouri State University announced plans to maintain a strong international student population in the wake of new federal rules regarding their visa status.

That’s why Dr. Kevin Timlin said new guidelines released by immigration and customs enforcement shocked a lot of people.

“We anticipated that we would be getting some guidance from the Department of Homeland Security or ICE but the content of that guidance caught a lot of people off guard,” he said.

That new federal rule requires students to attend in-person classes during the pandemic or lose their visa status.

Timlin said their plan should put students at ease.

“Because we’re declaring a hybrid model our student have a lot more flexibility, so the regulations that were announced last week said that schools are operating in a hybrid capacity those students those students can take more than one online course and maintain visa status,” he said.

However, Timlin said the new guidelines could impact incoming students from other countries.

“A large number of students apply for to be admitted into the fall. We were expecting a really good class of students for multiple programs and a lot of different countries but very few of those students are going to be able to get visas,” he said.

And Timlin said any drop in enrollment could have a potential impact on the economy.

“In Missouri alone, our international students contribute close to $240 million to our states economy and they are responsible for thousands and thousands of jobs it’s not just the university, it’s not just the enrollment‚ it’s the landlords,” he said.

He said they are basing all their decisions on that ICE ruling and he hoped things would not change before the semester begins.

"You have to keep your head really turning in all directions and making sure you really understand everything," he said.

From Kevin Timlin, executive director of International Education and Services, here’s a look at Southeast’s plan:

Dear Southeast International Students,

First and foremost, I hope this message finds you healthy, safe and secure during these challenging times. We look forward to welcoming everyone back to campus this Fall. I am writing to offer some perspective on the recent guidance released by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Let me start by reminding you all that Southeast recognizes international students and scholars as essential members of our educational community. During this challenging time, we wish to reaffirm our commitment to helping you pursue your educational goals.

As you certainly already know, students in the United States on an F or M visa have a restriction on online course enrollment. Under normal circumstances, international students can only count one online course toward their full-time enrollment each semester.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in Spring 2020, many universities, including Southeast, moved to remote delivery of courses to slow the spread of the disease. In response, DHS changed the online enrollment requirement for Spring and Summer terms. In short, the temporary changes allowed international students to maintain their active SEVIS status no matter how many online courses they were enrolled in or if face to face courses were taught remotely. Also, the rule allowed students to maintain their SEVIS status whether they stayed in the U.S. or returned home, as long as they maintained full-time enrollment.

On July 6, 2020, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP) announced modifications to the temporary exemptions for non-immigrant student visa holders taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester. The following statements reflect our understanding of the new guidance:

  • Students attending institutions that will operate entirely online in the Fall may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.
  • The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in institutions and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester.
  • International students enrolled at institutions offering courses entirely online and are in the United States must depart the country or transfer to another institution that is offering in-person instruction.
  • International students who leave the country and maintain full-time enrollment will be able to maintain their SEVIS status only if their institution has declared it is operating entirely online in the Fall.
  • Students attending institutions operating normally or in hybrid mode (defined as a mixture of online and in-person courses) will be allowed to enter and remain in the United States.
  • International students attending universities that will operate normally will face the regular online enrollment restrictions.
  • Students attending universities that will adopt a hybrid model of course delivery will be allowed to take more than one course online, but not a full online course load.
  • International students enrolled at institutions that are operating normally or in a hybrid mode cannot maintain their SEVIS status if they choose to leave the country and opt for online enrollment.
  • If a school changes its operational stance mid-semester, and as a result an international student switches to only online classes, the student must depart the United States or transfer to another institution with in-person instruction.

How does this guidance affect Southeast students?

  • Southeast has modified the academic calendar for Fall 2020 and transitioned some courses to a HyFlex model. As a result of these changes, Southeast will report to DHS that we will operate in a hybrid mode. This means that all new and returning international students will be permitted to be present for in person courses at Southeast in the Fall 2020 semester.
  • Because of our declared hybrid operating model, the regulations state international students may take more than one online course this fall 2020 semester but cannot take a full online course load. However, this guidance has not been fully clarified yet. Therefore, we advise all international students to adhere to the normal enrollment regulation of only one online course that counts towards your full-time enrollment requirement. Enrollment in more than one online course is permitted as long as the full-time and face to face requirements have been met.
  • New I-20s must be issued for all new and returning students. We will work with new students to get their new I-20 to them before their visa interview, and returning students’ new I-20s will be sent to their Southeast email by August 4, 2020.

Q&A for International Students

Southeast’s revised academic calendar will feature online/remote delivery after November 30 and conclude the fall semester December 11. Does ICE consider this online-only?

No, ICE considers this a change to our academic calendar and not a shift to online only delivery.

Are HyFlex and blended courses considered online or face-to-face?

HyFlex and blended courses are considered face-to-face courses. International students enrolled in HyFlex courses should attend the face-to-face class sessions as much as possible. Due to social distancing guidelines, it is possible the instructor will limit how many students are in the classroom by having students alternate days they are physically present in class. If students are in such a class, it is okay to follow the rules set by the instructor and attend face-to-face on the days they tell the students to attend. International students need to participate in the synchronous live stream on the days they are not physically present in the classroom.

What are my options if a professor decides to deliver a face-to-face course completely online?

Southeast faculty members with health concerns will have the opportunity to deliver their fall courses completely online. If you are an international student enrolled in a course that was originally face to face but is switched to online, we will work with you to find options to ensure your SEVIS status will be protected. By declaring a hybrid operating model, we believe that we will have the flexibility to help international students maintain status in situations like this.

What is Southeast doing to ensure the safety of our community next semester?

Comprehensive guidance will be issued by the University later this month. We are all in this together, and we each have a vested interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19. I encourage you to closely follow the guidance issued by the University, the Cape Girardeau Public Health Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What happens if Southeast is forced to shift to remote delivery of courses mid-semester?

Southeast will operate using a hybrid model in Fall 2020. Consequently, we believe Southeast’s international students will remain in status, complete the semester, and be permitted to remain in the United States.

Does this rule have any impact on students on Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

No, OPT students are not affected by this rule.

I am an incoming international first-year student. What should I do?

  • Continue your effort to secure a visa appointment with a U.S. Embassy or Consulate as soon as possible. However, you will need a new I-20 with newly required information. Discard any former I-20 issued to you.
  • Notify Southeast (international@semo.edu) of your visa appointment date and/or upon receipt of your visa.
  • We will send updated arrival and orientation information soon.
  • If you do not believe you will receive your visa in time to start classes at Southeast on August 24, please consider your different Fall enrollment options (see https://semo.edu/international/future/fall2020.html). PLEASE NOTE: New incoming international students are not permitted to enter the United States and begin their program late.All students must arrive on campus by Friday, August 28.

I am a current Southeast international student present in the United States. What should I do?

  • This new policy does not have any immediate effect on your immigration status or lawful presence in the United States.
  • You will receive a new I-20 via Southeast email by August 4, 2020.
  • Ensure that you are registered for full-time courses for the fall 2020 semester. PLEASE NOTE: We are advising all international students to adhere to the normal regulations of enrolling in only one online course that counts towards your full-time enrollment. Please be sure to work with your academic advisor and contact DSO@semo.edu if you have questions.
  • Contact Student Financial Services (sfs@semo.edu) with questions about billing or financial aid.
  • If you choose to leave the country and take Southeast courses online only or not enroll in courses at all this fall, please email DSO@semo.edu as this will impact your SEVIS/I-20 status since Southeast is not adopting an online only model.

I am a current Southeast international student outside of the United States. What should I do?

  • This new policy does not have any immediate effect on your immigration status as an F-1 student.
  • If you plan to return to Cape Girardeau for the Fall semester, please contact us at DSO@semo.edu as soon as possible. You will not be allowed to be enrolled in a full load of online courses.
  • Ensure your immigration documents (passport, U.S. visa) are valid and unexpired and that you have received your new I-20.
  • Finalize flight arrangements to return to campus.
  • If you believe you will be unable to return to campus on time, please notify Dr. Brooke DeArman, Assistant Director of International Education and Services, as soon as possible at DSO@semo.edu. She can advise you on your options in regard to your SEVIS status.

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