Since March, most U.S. consulates around the world have suspended the routine processing of visas. Given the visa delays, many U.S. universities are working to accommodate incoming undergraduate international students as the fall 2020 semester approaches.
It's an advice to all students to stay in contact with their college and/or university as developments seem to be changing daily.
Here are some things newly admitted international students should know:
International students who have accepted an offer of admission from a U.S. college and paid a deposit may have the option to defer enrollment for a semester or year due to travel restrictions and visa issues related to the global pandemic.
"We are reaching out to these students and making them aware of this option," says Sukant Misra, vice provost for international affairs at Texas Tech University.
At Michigan State University, "If students cannot begin in August due to current travel complications, or simply feel safer coming to the U.S. a semester later, they may start their studies in person in January 2021 rather than August 2020," says Patty Croom, director of international admissions, recruitment and student success. Croom says the international admissions office encourages students who defer their in-person arrival to campus to consider taking a few online classes offered by Michigan State during the fall semester so they can begin their higher education career from home and engage with the school's community in the interim.
Regarding possible refunds of enrollment deposits, experts suggest students contact their individual school for its policy.
At Michigan State, "Students who request an extension to June 1 for their decision can still get a refund through June 1. After that, if they cannot make it in the fall, then their deposit will be valid to come in January," Croom says.
Experts suggest international students prepare for the possibility of having to take their fall semester or quarter classes online due to circumstances related to the pandemic, despite some schools taking steps to reopen.
"I would say that the chances of taking classes online is a very strong possibility for those not deferring," Garbini says. "As of now students aren't able to get visas or there is a tremendous backlog of getting them due to closures of the embassies and processing offices." Mike Gosz, vice president for enrollment and senior vice provost at the Illinois Institute of Technology, says the school plans "to welcome students to campus for the start of the 2020 fall semester, with on-campus housing and in-person classes, labs and studios," but is prepared for a variety of scenarios, like a remote start for international students.
Some large public universities are working toward resuming on-campus classes in the fall, such as Arizona State University, James Madison University in Virginia, Purdue University—West Lafayette in Indiana and 16 campuses in the University of North Carolina system. "At this point, we are optimistically planning for a safe return in the fall with social distancing and safety constraints in place," says Junko Takada, international student services coordinator at Chapman University, a private school in California. Takada says the school is still developing firm plans for the fall semester. "Senior leadership is considering the best course of action for our international students," Takada says, given that some may be unable to get to campus due to travel or visa issues. Misra says an option Texas Tech is considering is "a reduced tuition and fee for international students taking online offerings, but a final decision on that has not been made."
Once an international student is accepted into a U.S. university, the school will send a Form I-20, which certifies the student is eligible to apply for an F-1 academic student visa or M-1 vocational student visa. Many schools are still processing and mailing I-20s. Once the pandemic gets under control, experts say international students should anticipate having a short window to apply for their visa and move to the U.S.
Misra says Texas Tech is still issuing I-20s and will continue to do so with an extended visa application deadline. "We hope that U.S. embassies will make it a priority for processing student visa applications expeditiously," Misra says. Croom says Michigan State is issuing I-20s to international students who hope to begin in the fall so that when a visa appointment opens up, they can apply. "Should they not be able to arrive in time for the start of classes, we will work with those students to help them change their arrival to January," she says. Yu has submitted materials for Case Western Reserve University to create his I-20 but says he was informed by his counselor that the visa appointment in Shanghai would be as late as August. He says he's anxious to attend the university in person on campus in the fall, rather than online, and is ready to go when visa and travel restrictions are lifted.
"For me, living in a new culture and meeting new friends are as important as studying in the university," Yu says.
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