International Student Status and Course Designations
You may have read the directive released yesterday, July 6, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding fall 2020 enrollment for F-1 students in the Student and Visitor Exchange Program (SEVP).
Although the directive raises many questions, it makes clear that:
- If ALL of an international student’s fall 2020 classes are online, they CANNOT remain in the United States.
- If an international student is to remain in the United States, their enrollment will need to have an in-person component.
- If a school or student begins the fall semester with in-person classes but later switches to only online classes, international students must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.
The directive also makes clear that “F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model — that is, a mixture of online and in person classes — will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.”
In sum, under this directive, schools that provide hybrid and hyflex courses and programs provide international students with the best opportunities and the greatest flexibility to make progress toward their degree this fall and for the foreseeable future. KU has roughly 2,000 international students, many of whom hold GRA, GTA and GA appointments. How we adjust to this new development will have deep implications for our people, our programs and our projects.
The good news for KU’s international students is that we have adopted a hybrid model for fall semester. In a message sent June 15, “Guidance To Prepare Instruction for Fall,” I shared with you that “The best answer to our situation now is … to provide as many courses in blended and hybrid formats as possible.”
KU is planning to offer a variety of Instructional Modes to help accommodate students wherever they are, and whether or not they are in the United States this fall:
- Hybrid Classroom
- Hybrid Online
We provided this guidance because we know our current circumstances are particularly fraught for our most vulnerable populations – including our international students. If we are to meet our students’ needs, we must reach them wherever they are and provide them with highly engaging experiences and support that will encourage them to persist and complete their degrees, even during these most challenging times.
Yesterday’s federal announcement highlights a particularly delicate balancing act we must navigate. We must address our goal of caring for the health of KU instructors and their loved ones, as we also balance the critical educational and, in some cases, health and financial needs of our domestic and international students. I know we will find a way forward that allows us to do both.
Faculty, instructors, GTAs, chairs, academic directors and deans: next week you will be working with Analytics and Institutional Research and Enrollment Management to complete our mid-July round of assigning one of the four instructional modes to each course on our fall course schedule. As you assign instructional modes to your courses, please consider that your decisions ultimately determine whether our international students will be able to stay at KU, in the United States, or whether they must leave the country. Please note the dissertation hours and research hours for graduate students have traditionally been coded as “in-person,” even if “arranged” and without a set class time. It is strongly recommended that this not be changed. The final fall course schedule is expected be updated and available to students on August 3.
At KU, our learning, our research, and our work are essential. The decisions we make and the actions we take significantly impact – for better or for worse – peoples’ lives and futures. I believe there’s never been a more important time to advance science, knowledge and creativity, and there’s never been a greater need to educate people.
Thank you for all you do – for our students and for the university.
P.S. – If you’d like to read more, below the signature line is a more detailed email Associate Vice Provost for International Affairs Charles Bankart shared with me on July 2. It details the potential impact of the then-expected SEVP directive, with recommendations for course coding to ensure the greatest flexibility for our international students.
Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
From: Bankart, Charles A.S. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Thursday, July 2, 2020 1:17 PM
To: Bichelmeyer, Barbara Anne <email@example.com>
Subject: PRIORITY: Follow up regarding international students and hybrid enrollment for fall semester
Dear Provost Bichelmeyer,
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me yesterday evening about the urgent issues surrounding international students and their enrollment options for fall semester. If KU doesn’t coalesce around a hybrid classification system for its fall courses (I’m just speaking to the classification (or coding), not how the courses are taught), we will lose hundreds and hundreds of international students. The situation could not be more urgent.
I have been in regular conversations with faculty and staff members across the schools (undergraduate and graduate advisors, scheduling officers, et cetera) in recent weeks and can speak to a growing panic and a complete lack of both a shared understanding of the immigration context our international students face, as well as a sense of the approach that will serve our students best, while providing faculty members with the flexibility to design, deliver and adapt the courses they are slated to teach (and for KU to adapt in the event that we have to begin the term virtually). When I explain the implications of the choices our academic departments are making, the magnitude of the issue becomes clear and the path forward also becomes clear.
I also spent over an hour this morning with a group of international students (many of whom you met on Zoom Friday evening). Their first and primary concern was about fall enrollment and what their faculty advisors are telling them. Some professors are saying they will have all of their courses online. Others are saying they will only be teaching in person and that’s what the university is requiring of them. A separate group is saying that they will be teaching in a hybrid fashion. The common thread is the focus on “how” the courses are going to be taught, rather than on how it’s coded to enable more universal student access and instructional options.
The concept of high-flex teaching to ensure participation across a broad spectrum of student contexts is largely not present, and there is no understanding that the course coding is the foundation upon which everything else rests (and becomes important). It’s bewildering and frightening to students because the implications literally boil down to whether or not they can continue or begin as KU students. Here are the issues that have come to the fore and which must be addressed centrally to preserve KU’s accessibility for international students.
The Immigration Requirement:
International students must be enrolled in a minimum number of credit hours of in-person instruction (9 for undergraduates and 6 for graduate students) to remain physically present in the U.S., or to be eligible to enter the U.S. to begin a degree program in person. In-person can be either in-person traditional courses, or courses that have been coded / defined as “hybrid in-person” or “hybrid on-line”.
This seems straightforward, but the barrier and opportunity lies in the concept of “in-person,” which is only loosely defined for immigration purposes. What immigration means – is that there must be a synchronous component where students are actively present in the classroom. They do not – interestingly - define this as physically present 100% of the time. We have to remember that the immigration regulations pre-date distance technology and virtual tools like Zoom/Skype/Teams. That allows for students to meet the physical presence requirement in the immigration regulations through in-person participation, or through hybrid course participation where there is a central synchronous dimension that can be achieved by students in-person or – in the unique context of COVID-19 - virtually through an interface like Zoom, Teams, or Blackboard Collaborate.
Defining courses as hybrid from a coding perspective does not define how the instructor manages the course content delivery. It simply creates a universal context that enables enrollment for all students, while allowing the faculty member to adapt to the needs of students who are physically present, cannot be physically present, etc… In the context of classroom capacity and thinking through in-person access and rotation schedules for fall for larger sections, this is perfect – and it justifies a stronger incorporation of asynchronous dimensions of a course without harming the ability of international students to enroll. Whether the course is coded as an “In-person Hybrid” course, or “Hybrid Online”, both have a synchronous component that is presumed to be in person, but could be achieved virtually in the intermediate term if a student is delayed on their arrival to campus for fall. It’s important to remember that if it ends up a student currently abroad is unable to enter the U.S. prior to fall term’s end, that’s fine because they do not have an immigration status. This just enables them to enroll, participate in the class, earn the credit toward their degrees, and get here legitimately if possible. If not, we simply cancel their I-20 and re-issue a new one for spring term. We would do this on the last day of October.
The Central Problem with Online and In-Person Coding of Classes:
- Online Coding: If a course is coded online, the only international students who can enroll in that course are those outside the U.S. because you cannot fulfill the immigration presence requirement through online enrollment. Again – this is how the course is coded – not whether or not the instruction has online elements, which would be the case in hybrid classes. New students who are currently abroad, would not be eligible for a U.S. entry visa if they are only enrolled in online courses, and they would be denied entry into the U.S. if they did have a valid U.S. visa because online course enrollment prohibits physical presence in the U.S. unless it is accompanied by the requisite number of in-person enrollment hours.
The other aspect of coding courses online for fall is that the 95% of our continuing students who stayed in the U.S. this spring and summer to enable them to rejoin us for in-person classes this fall would have to leave the U.S. immediately. They cannot remain in the U.S. if their coursework is coded as online only.
- In-Person Coding: If a course is coded as in-person, that means physical presence is required 75-100% of the time. For our continuing international students who have remained in the U.S., this serves them well – assuming we are able to start in-person in August (if we are not – they will have to leave the U.S. because we have defined our courses as in-person and then decided not to deliver in person – leaving students with no options to remain in the U.S.).
For any student outside the U.S., and especially our new undergraduate and graduate admits, if they can’t get a visa in time and start in-person when the term begins on August 24th, they will not be allowed to come/return to the U.S. and to KU. A few days late is typically okay, but visa appointments are not likely to start anytime soon, and the backlogs are so significant at U.S. consulates and embassies, students are looking at appointments in October/November. Coding courses as in-person simply means you have to be here and immigration officials will deny entry to students who have already missed a significant portion of the term (they have the discretionary authority to determine what “significant portion” means) by the time they can and are ready to arrive. We not only have visa issues, but country bans in European countries, the UK, Ireland, China, etc… that may not be lifted before August. With 2/3 of our new admits currently residing outside the U.S. if they can’t enroll in courses coded as hybrid, they will either have to enroll in online only courses as they remain outside the U.S. or defer until spring.
The solution here is for KU to code its classes as hybrid (hybrid on-line or hybrid-in person), with an understanding that almost all instructors will have students who can be present and some who cannot (domestic and international students). The coding does not define the instructional modalities that are employed, but does create the context for students to be here when and if they can get here, or to remain here if they are already in the U.S.
Please let me know if additional information or clarification would be helpful. I have email correspondence with faculty that speak to the above and the general lack of understanding (and alarm when the situation is clarified to them), but I believe the above encapsulates that information well and is already too long.