International Student COVID-19 Updates and Procedures

Spring 2021 International Student Updates

At this time we have been authorized to continue to follow/abide by the March 2020 Guidance (updated August 2020) for the Spring 2021 term. This means that current nonimmigrant students, those who were actively enrolled with the Blinn College District on March 9, 2020, are allowed to remain active regardless if they are taking classes inside the U.S. or abroad.

However, initial students who began enrollment with the Blinn College District for the Fall 2020 and students who plan to begin for Spring 2021 cannot take completely online courses from outside of the U.S.These students must register for at least 3 hours of hybrid coursework with face-to-face instruction in the United States to remain active.

Students should refer to the Fall 2020 term information below regarding registration requirements for Spring 2021. International Students must be registered in a full course of student (12 hours) by January 19, 2021 to remain active. Students who wish to defer or request a temporary leave of absence must request it through their myBLINN student email account no later than January 8, 2021.


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SEVP Updates and Guidance

History of Events:

On July 6th & 7th the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) posted a long awaited guidance specific to Fall 2020 for F-visa holders. However, on July 14th the SEVP rescinded the July 6th guidance and reverted to the previous guidance documents from March 2020. The SEVP posted an updated FAQ sheet on July 15th. At 12:30pm on July 24th the SEVP issued a follow-up guidance regarding the Fall 2020 term clarifying certain topics not addressed in the March guidance. All updates and guidance from the SEVP can be seen at https://www.ice.gov/coronavirus.

Terminology:

When reading the SEVP guidance and updates keep these important distinctions in mind.

  • Current F-1 Students - students who previously attended Blinn College for Spring 2020 on an I-20 and are returning to Blinn College for Fall 2020.
  • Initial/New F-1 Students - students who are new to Blinn for Fall 2020. This includes students who are transfer F-1 students to Blinn College.

What this Means:

Current F-1 Students:

  • The March 2020 guidance that we are still under applies to the Fall 2020 term and non-immigrant students who were actively enrolled at a U.S. school on March 9, 2020 and are otherwise complying with the terms of their non-immigrant status.
  • The SEVP will not issue a temporary final rule impacting F students for the Fall term.
  • Current students will be allowed to temporarily take more than 3 hours of online/blended coursework.
  • Current students outside of the U.S. will be able to take all online courses and maintain their Active status in SEVIS if they can maintain a full-course of study (12 hours). 
  • Current students who were outside of the U.S. as a result of the pandemic can re-enter the U.S. for the Fall term even if their school is engaging in solely distance learning.
  • If the school is required to unexpectedly close or return to a completely online modality following the start of the Fall term, current international students will be allowed to take completely online classes from either inside or outside of the U.S.
  • The DSO will be required to place notes in a current student’s I-20 record if they departed the U.S. due to the pandemic and has not returned to the U.S. but is continuing to take a full course of student completely online.
  • Current students will need to notify the international office within 10 days of any address change if they are in the U.S. so the DSO can update the addresses in SEVIS.
  • If a current student does not wish to take alternative courses being offered (online or blended) for the Fall term they may request a temporary absence and we will process an authorized early withdraw. We will provide more information regarding this process at a later date.

Initial/New Fall Students:

  • Initial students who are in the U.S. (mostly applies to transfer students who did not leave the U.S.) will be allowed to begin for the Fall term and will be allowed to take more than 3 hours of online/blended coursework. Although they cannot be in a 100% online course load.
  • Initial students who are not able to enter the U.S. on a valid F-1 visa for the Fall term are not able to begin a new program remotely.
  • DSO’s should NOT issue a form I-20 for a student in new or initial status who is outside of the U.S. and plans to take classes at a SEVP-certified institution that is operating 100% online.
  • Initial students will NOT be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school as a non-immigrant student for Fall term to pursue a full course of student that is 100% online.
  • Initial transfer students who are outside of the U.S. will remain in initial status until they are ready to re-enter the U.S. to begin study. You will need to contact the DSO for us to process a data fix in the SEVIS system. We will provide more information regarding this process at a later date.
  • Initial transfer students who are inside the U.S. must report to the DSO in-person or with electronic check-in. We will provide more information regarding this process at a later date.

Other Related Announcements:

  • The Department of State has announced on Twitter, @TravelGov, on July 13th, “US embassies will and consulates are beginning the phased resumption of routine visa services. The dates for each embassy or consulate will depend on local conditions. We are unable to provide details for each location. Please monitor the embassy or consulate website for updates.”
  • July 14th the Department of State announced, “As global conditions evolve, U.S. Embassies and Consulates are beginning a phased resumption of routine visa services.” For embassy websites got to https://www.usembassy.gov.
  • July 16th state.gov news – “Students traveling from the Schengen Area, UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 visas, do not need to seek a national interest exception to travel.” Students coming from this area may travel to the U.S. but are encouraged to check for all travel restrictions on www.travel.state.gov regarding which airports to route through.
  • All students seeking to travel into the U.S. should monitor travel.state.gov website regarding restrictions and travel instructions.

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Fall 2020 Beginning of Term Information

When will the Fall semester begin and end?

  1. Blinn College will be opening for the Fall 2020 term. Classes will begin on August 24, 2020.
  2. Students currently outside of the United States will need to enter the United States by August 10th in order to complete 14 days of self-isolation prior to attending classes on August 14th.
  3. Following the Thanksgiving Holiday (Nov. 25-29) almost all courses will switch to strictly online. Student housing will remain open. International students will be allowed to return home but must still complete all online course work.

Important Dates for Fall 2020

Important dates are posted on the Back-With Blinn website and registration screens.

Part of Term Start Date End Date Add/Drop Last Day to Drop Finals
16 Week Full Session 8/24/2020 12/5/2020 8/24 - 8/25/2020 11/30/2020 12/7 - 12/10/2020
First 8 Week Session 8/24/2020 10/12/2020 8/24/2020 10/2/2020 10/13/2020
Second 8 Week Session 10/19/2020 12/9/2020 10/19/2020 10/19/2020 12/10/2020
First 4 Week Session 8/24/2020 9/15/2020 8/24/2020 9/4/2020 9/16/2020
Second 4 Week Session 9/21/2020 10/13/2020 9/21/2020 10/2/2020 10/14/2020
Third 4 Week Session 10/19/2020 11/10/2020 10/19/2020 10/30/2020 11/11/2020
Fourth 4 Week Session 11/16/2020 12/9/2020 11/16/2020 11/30/2020 12/10/2020

Mandatory Self-Isolation:

  1. International students who are entering the United States for the Fall term via air travel will be required to complete a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period prior to arriving on campus.
  2. Blinn College will not provide a location for students to self-isolate prior to the beginning of the Fall term.
  3. It is the responsibility of the student to secure a location in which to complete their isolation period.
  4. Students will not be allowed on campus prior to completing their isolation period, this includes utilizing any campus services or planned event: Housing services, Library services, Food services, Advising Services, Enrollment Services, move-in, appointments, purchasing books, or required face to face class meetings.
  5. Students that are required to self-isolate must begin isolation period by August 10th. If you do not begin your isolation period by this date you must contact the International Office immediately.

Beginning of the Term Check-in:

Each student (Both New and Current) will be required to complete a mandatory check-in process for the beginning of the term to provide updated immigration and entry documents. The check-in process must be complete prior to the beginning of the term. (More instructions will be coming soon)


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Procedure to Request Deferral/Temporary Leave of Absence

Current Students: 

  • Students who do not wish to take classes for the Fall term because they cannot find online classes, they do not wish to re-enter the United States, or they are affected by the pandemic can request a Temporary Leave of Absence.
  • To request a leave of absence you must email the International Office from your Blinn Student email. State the reason you are requesting the leave of absence and when you plan to return to Blinn College.
  • The International Office will review each request and if approved, will process a termination of your I-20 for the “Approved Early Withdrawal” which will allow the student an approved temporary leave of absence in the SEVIS system for up to 5 months.
  • Students must request a Temporary Leave of Absence by August 14th.
  • If in the United States, once approved the student will have 15 days to leave the United States.
  • Traditionally temporary leave of absences is only allowed for up to 5 months. There may be additional guidance in the coming months regarding the 5-month requirement.  For now, the student would need to return to Blinn College for the Spring 2021 term.
  • Students cannot re-enter the United States until their SEVIS record is made Active again. Contact the International Office prior to making plans to return to the United States.
  • Students who were on a Temporary Leave of Absence cannot re-enter the United States 60 days prior to the next program start date.

Initial Students Outside of the United States: 

  • Initial international students who are not able to enter the United States due to visa issuance issues or flight issues can request a deferral of their I-20 record to Spring 2021.
  • To request a deferral, email the International Office from your Blinn Student email account.
  • Students must request a deferral by August 14th.
  • Students will receive an updated I-20 with Spring 2021 program dates.
  • Students can request a visa up to 120 days from the start of a program. If you have a visa appointment do not cancel it.  Notify the International Office so we can ensure you have an updated I-20 for the appointment. 
  • Students that request a deferral will be required to re-submit updated confirmation of financial resource documents which must be within 6 months from the start of Spring 2021. We will temporarily accept these documents via email.

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Enrollment Requirements for the Fall 2020 term

What are the enrollment requirements to maintain my F-1 visa during the Fall 2020 term?

  • International students will be required to maintain a full-time schedule of 12 hours total for the entire span of the Fall semester. Enrollment is monitored across the entire span of the semester; you must be registered for the 12 hours prior to the start of the classes on August 24th.
  • It is recommended that students do not take more than a total of 15 hours for the semester.
  • Students cannot take all 12 hours in a 4-week or 8-week term. You will need to spread the courses out across both first 8-week and second 8-week time frames.
  • All courses for the Fall have online components so international students will be allowed to take more than 3 hours online/blended course without it affecting their F-1 visa status.
  • Initial students cannot take 100% online courses for the term and must enroll in at least 3 hours of hybrid courses during both the first 8-week and second 8-week time frame.
  • Current students who are choosing to take 100% online courses for the Fall term must notify the International Office by completing the electronic form titled “International Student Check-in” (More information on how to access this form coming soon).

What is the class format for Fall 2020 term?

  1. For the Fall 2020 semester, there will be a reduction in 16- week term classes and the schedule will utilize 4-week, 8-week, and 12-week term courses to limit the number of students on campus at any given time.
  2. All classes will NOT be completely online as it was for the Spring 2020 term.
  3. The Fall schedule will be utilizing a new hybrid format for classes in order to limit the number of students in class at any given time. (see the Back with Blinn website to understand this new format).
  4. Many of these formats will require students to be present in the United States to maintain their enrollment.
  5. When registering make sure to understand what format course you are registering for by reviewing the chart below. This chart is also posted on the registration screens.
  6. Blinn College has posted great information about what to expect regarding courses for the Fall; check it out at http://www.blinn.edu/back-with-blinn/academics.html

Which format is best for me?

Method of Instruction Definition
Live Online All class participation takes place via live videoconferencing at scheduled class time.
Connect live with your professor and peers without traveling to campus!
Trad w Live Online Students rotate between attending class on campus (Traditional method of instruction) and participating via live videoconferencing during scheduled class time (Live Online method of instruction). 
Connect live with your professor and peers on campus and online!
Blend w Live Online Students rotate between attending class on campus and participating via live videoconferencing during scheduled class time (Blended method of instruction). More than 1/2 of class content is posted online for students to complete on their schedule.
Shorter class times allow for greater schedule flexibility!
Flexible Online All class content is posted online for students to complete on their schedule (Flexible mode of instruction). 
This option requires no travel to campus and offers the greatest schedule flexibility!
Traditional All class content is delivered in the classroom with supplemental online material. This class will not have remote access capabilities.

This table found on the course schedule outlines the differences in course formats for the Fall.

  • Current/Returning International Students: This is anyone who previously had an I-20 with Blinn College in the Spring 2020 term.
    • You are permitted to take online classes in excess of the normal limits and can take all online from your home country.
    • If you are planning to take online classes, you will need to choose either “Live Online” or “Flexible Online” course formats.
  • Initial/New International Students: This is anyone who is new to Blinn College for Fall 2020.
    • You are NOT permitted to take 100% online classes for the Fall 2020 term.
    • You must be registered in at least 3 hours of “Traditional With Live Online” or “Blended With Live Online” course during both the first 8-week and second 8-week time frame.

Choosing to take completely online courses:

Current/Returning International Students who are considering taking 100% online courses for the Fall term need to consider these items.

  • You must be enrolled in a full course load (12 hours) across the entire semester. Students will not be able to drop below 12 hours for the semester.
  • You must register for all your classes by August 24th.
  • Current students must notify the International Office of their plans to enroll completely online by August 14th. This should be completed through the electronic form titled “International Student Check-in.”
  • Double-check that you have all the required technology resources to complete the class online. (See section on Back with Blinn website: https://www.blinn.edu/back-with-blinn/academics.html)
  • You are responsible to meet all course requirements online regardless of where you are located this includes technology outages and service disruptions that may occur due to being in another country.
  • All course deadlines and due dates will be in the Central Standard Time Zone and it is your responsibility to keep up with these deadlines.
  • Students on an F-1 visa will be charged an international student tuition rate regardless if they are completely online and taking classes from their home country.
  • Online courses will be charged a distance education fee.

Registration is active:

  • Registration is currently active, meaning students can make changes to their schedule. Students planning to attend for the Fall 2020 term are encouraged to register now.
  • Students have until August 23rd to make changes to your schedule for the Fall 2020 term.
  • Registration is currently on a PayGo system, meaning payment is due at the time of registration.
  • Courses dropped after August 23rd will NOT receive a 100% refund.

Will students receive refunds or tuition waivers?

No, tuition and mandatory fees have been set regardless of the method of instruction and will not be prorated, reduced, or waived in the event that instruction occurs remotely for any part of the academic year.


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Address Changes/Notification of Returning Home

  • International students are still required to notify the International Office of any change in address, email, or phone number within 10 days of the change.
  • If international students choose to return home following the Thanksgiving Holiday, they will need to notify the International Office (will give more instructions at a later date).
  • Travel signatures will still be required. If you are returning to the United States for the Fall and you do not have a travel signature on the second page of the Form I-20, notify the International Office prior to re-entry.
  • If you plan to leave the United States during the Fall you will need to receive your travel signature before you depart.

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Documentation Regarding Blinn College’s Course Modality

We have been notified that many United States embassies, consulates, and port-of-entries are requesting documentation regarding Blinn College’s plan to hold hybrid courses.

  • We have created an official letter for you to download should you need it: Blinn College Fall 2020 Course Modality Letter.
  • We will also be working to update I-20’s with the required information to reflect changes for the Fall 2020 term. We will be reaching out to you via your Blinn Student email account once we have determined if you are one of the students who need an updated I-20.

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