Fall 2022 Online vs. Face-to-Face (F2F)/Hybrid Requirement

See here for Fall 2022 J1 Student Information: https://oips.gmu.edu/Fall2022J1/

However, on May 31, 2022, SEVP updated the Frequently Asked Questions for SEVP Stakeholders about COVID-19: 

SEVP states the following key points for F1 students: 

  • The March guidance only applies to nonimmigrant students who were actively enrolled at a U.S. school on March 9, 2020 and have continuously complied with the terms of their nonimmigrant status (page 2, question 2). 
  • Whether an individual is eligible to apply for an F-1 Visa is a decision that must be made by the U.S. Department of State…DSOs may issue Forms I-20 to nonimmigrant students seeking to enroll in a program of study inside the United States that includes in person and online components…This includes new or initial students (page 3, Question 4)  

For several semesters, OIPS has recommended that students who began F1 status in Fall 2020 or later enroll in as many hybrid or face-to-face classes as possible. 

Due to the May 31, 2022, SEVP clarification, we are again strongly urging all students who started studies in Fall 2020 and did not have a SEVIS Active on March 9, 2020, to enroll in at least one hybrid or face-to-face class every semester that they are enrolled because they were not SEVIS ACTIVE on March 9, 2020. 

Students who started studies in Spring 2020 and have been maintaining status, are eligible to take classes fully online inside or outside of the U.S.in Fall 2022 because they had a SEVIS Active record on March 9, 2020. 

Official Government Resources

Fall 2022 Frequently Asked Questions about Enrollment, Travel, Work

These FAQs are based on the government resources linked above and University/OIPS Policies and Procedures. Note that rules are subject to change and that you should check for updates and visit the official government resource links above regularly.

General Enrollment
 

1.  How many credit hours must an F-1 student take?

F1 Students are required to be enrolled for a full course of study every semester.

  • Undergraduate students must take at least 12 credits
  • Graduate students without an assistantship must take at least 9
  • Graduate students with an assistantship can take 6 credits if their assistantship meets full-time equivalency requirements as defined by the Registrar. Students must work with the department offering the assistantship to ensure that these requirements are met.
  • INTO Mason Academic English students must take 18 clock hours per week in person
  • INTO Mason Pathways students must follow the schedule assigned to them by INTO Mason but have at least the same credit requirements as their degree level counterparts (9 for Graduate, 12 for Undergraduate) 

2. Are there any exceptions to the full course of study requirements above?

In some situations, reduced course loads can be approved so that a student can maintain status with less than the credit hour requirements stated in Question 1 above. Students should not drop courses before discussing eligibility for reduced course load with an OIPS advisor. See OIPS Self Service Center, for more information and step-by-step instructions. Specifically see these sections:

  • Reduced Course Load (RCL) for Academic Reasons: Can only be approved in the first semester of study and cannot be considered again until the first semester of a student’s next education level.
  • Reduced Course Load for an Illness or Medical Condition: In most cases, must be recommended by George Mason’s Office of Disability Services.
  • Reduced Course Load for Last Semester: Can only be approved for students who have successfully applied for graduation

Fall 2022 Online vs. Face-to-Face (F2F)/Hybrid Requirement

 

In the FAQs below, the term Face-to-Face means the same as the term F2F 

 3.  I am an F1 student who started studies in Spring 2020. My SEVIS record was active on March 9, 2020. How many online courses can I take?

You can take classes fully online for the Fall 2022 semester inside or outside of the U.S. if this is allowed by your academic department. You should coordinate directly with your academic department on course availability and requirements. 

It is very likely that you will also be able to take a fully online course load in Spring 2023 since the SEVP Guidance covers the Fall 2022/Spring 2023 year. However, please continue to check for updates since the guidance only applies to you if George Mason continues a hybrid mode of operations for Spring 2023. 

Please also see the important employment considerations in Questions 8-15 below. You should be aware of this information before you decide to take classes outside of the U.S. 

4. I am an F1 student who started studies in Fall 2020 or later. My SEVIS record was NOT active on March 9, 2020. How many online courses can I take?

You should not take classes fully online in any semester of enrollment. You should take at least one F2F or hybrid class every semester that you are enrolled.

OIPS has consistently recommended that any student who started F1 status in Fall 2020 (was not SEVIS ACTIVE on March 9, 2020), take as many F2F or hybrid classes as possible. Since SEVP updated their guidance on May 31, 2022, and clarified that fully online enrollment flexibility applies only to students who were SEVIS ACTIVE on March 9, 2020, we are emphasizing this recommendation: We strongly encourage students who started studies in F1 status in Fall 2020 to take as many F2F or hybrid classes as possible in every semester of enrollment.

5. If I started studies Fall 2020 or later, can I keep my F1 status valid if I did not/do not have at least one hybrid or F2F class each semester of enrollment?

George Mason has a hybrid mode of operations and offers both in person and online courses, so you should make a full effort to enroll in a hybrid or F2F course if one is available, including joining waitlists, working with your academic advisor to force add a course. If the situation is beyond your control, then the SEVP guidance allows for flexibility. Situations beyond a student’s control could include enrollment in a hybrid course that the university cancels or changes to an online mode of study or similar situations in which, despite their best effort, a student cannot enroll in at least one hybrid or F2F course.

6. If I started studies in Fall 2020 or later, what negative consequences could I face in the future if I do not take at least one hybrid or F2F course every semester of enrollment?

A strict interpretation by the U.S. government might affect future applications such as work authorization, adjustment of status, or other benefits. Students may need to submit transcripts or enrollment verification for these types of benefits and could be questioned about why they enrolled in online courses. 

7. How can I tell if a class is fully online, hybrid, or F2F?

Mode of instruction is determined by the Registrar and shown in https://patriotweb.gmu.edu/. When you look at the information for a course in Patriotweb, check the Instructional Method.

To avoid a course that is online, do not register for any courses that are F2F 0-1%. Register for at least one course (or more if possible) that is Hybrid F2F 2-75% or F2F: F2F 76-100%.

  • Fully online: F2F 0 – 1%
  • Hybrid: F2F 2-75%
  • F2F: F2F 76-100%

Employment

 

The current SEVP guidance, allows for remote work in certain situations. See Page 12, Employment Section.

If you are applying for work authorization, you need to be aware of other important rules as detailed in the FAQs below.

General Employment Rules

8. If I am studying outside of the U.S., do the semesters of enrollment outside of the U.S. count toward the one academic year requirement for work authorization?

If your SEVIS record is active while you are enrolled, you can count the semester towards the requirement to meet the academic year requirement.


9. Can I apply for OPT outside of the U.S?

USCIS instructions on the I-765 application state that you must be in the U.S. to apply for OPT. OIPS does not monitor your physical location at the time that you submit your OPT application. We are providing this information to you so that you know official USCIS rules.

10. Do I have to be aware of any work restrictions in addition to F1 visa status rules?

Yes. You should consult with your employer and their trusted tax experts about any rules regarding labor laws, tax implications, employer reporting requirements, and other issues that you may need to be aware of before you decide where you work, physically or remotely, especially if you are considering work while you are outside of the U.S.

11. How do I apply for OPT or CPT?

The employment section of these FAQS are intended to provide you with information on work flexibilities based on SEVP’s current guidance. To apply for OPT or CPT, you must still follow OIPS procedures on how to determine eligibility and complete application steps that will include information and documentation from you, your academic department, and your training organization or employer. See https://oips.gmu.edu/oips-self-service-center/ and scroll down to the individual sections on CPT and OPT for detailed information.

 

Remote Work

12. If my SEVIS record was Active on March 9, 2020, can I work outside of the U.S. on STEM OPT, OPT, and CPT?

  • OPT: You are eligible to work remotely outside of the U.S if, as stated in the SEVP Guidance, Employment Section, Question 2, your “employer has an office outside of the U.S. or the employer can assess student engagement by electronic means.” Note that a location outside of the U.S. cannot be reported in the SEVIS system. This option is only possible if the company is headquartered in the U.S. with a secondary location outside of the U.S. or if you have highly effective remote supervision from the employer.
  • STEM OPT: Although current SEVP Guidance states that remote work is possible (see information above regarding OPT), it also includes a statement that I-983 requirements remain in effect. Since you are still required to report a Site of Activity on your I-983, it is safest if you do not work remotely,
  • CPT: You are eligible to work outside of the U.S., as stated in the SEVP guidance, Employment Section, Question 3. CPT authorization for work outside of the U.S. is consistent with the current SEVP Guidance that allows students who were SEVIS Active 3/9/2020 to maintain a valid SEVIS record with a fully online course load outside of the U.S. Since OIPS is responsible for monitoring and updating your SEVIS record, we should also keep an accurate record of your work, regardless of the location. We highly recommend that you apply for CPT even if you are physically located outside of the U.S.

13. If my SEVIS record was Active on March 9, 2020, can I work remotely inside of the U.S. on STEM OPT, OPT, and CPT?

  • OPT: You are eligible to work remotely inside of the U.S if you can meet OPT employment reporting rules and your employer can provide effective supervision.
  • STEM OPT: Although current SEVP Guidance states that remote work is possible (see information above regarding OPT), it also includes a statement that about I-983 requirements remain in effect. Since you are still required to report a Site of Activity on your I-983. It is safest if you do not work remotely.
  • CPT: Remote work inside the U.S. is not specifically addressed in the SEVP Guidance. Students should follow OIPS standard policies to determine CPT eligibility, which in most cases requires enrollment in an internship course that is integral to program completion and a position with a training organization that has a strong curricular connection to your program. If these criteria are met, then remote work may be considered. Students should see https://oips.gmu.edu/oips-self-service-center/ and scroll down to the CPT section.

14. If my SEVIS record was not Active on March 9, 2020, can I work outside of the U.S. on OPT, STEM OPT, and CPT?

  • OPT/STEM OPT: A strict interpretation of the current SEVP guidance indicates that you should not work outside of the U.S. If you make arrangements with your employer to work remotely, be aware that the longer you are outside of the U.S, the more the risk that the United States government will question why you need to maintain F1 status.
  • CPT: No. Since you should be enrolled in at least one hybrid or F2F class every semester of enrollment, you cannot participate in CPT outside of the U.S.

15. If my SEVIS record was not Active on March 9, 2020, can I work remotely inside the U.S on OPT, STEM OPT, and CPT?

The answer to this question is the same as the answer in Question 13 and applies to students regardless of when their SEVIS record is/was ACTIVE.

  • OPT: You are eligible to work remotely inside of the U.S if you can meet OPT employment reporting rules and your employer can provide effective supervision.
  • STEM OPT: Although current SEVP Guidance states that remote work is possible (see information above regarding OPT), it also includes a statement that about I-983 requirements remain in effect. Since you are still required to report a Site of Activity on your I-983. It is safest if you do not work remotely.
  • CPT: Remote work inside the U.S. is not specifically addressed in the SEVP Guidance. Students should follow OIPS standard policies to determine CPT eligibility, which in most cases requires enrollment in an internship course that is integral to program completion and a position with a training organization that has a strong curricular connection to your program. If these criteria are met, then remote work may be considered. Students should see https://oips.gmu.edu/oips-self-service-center/ and scroll down to the CPT section.

Travel

 

Entering the U.S.

The information below should apply to all F-1 Students at all U.S. airports. However, please keep in mind that every Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) unit has its own set of procedures, which may vary slightly from the process stated below.

16. What happens when I go through Customs at the airport?

The Customs officer will ask to see your documents (valid I-20, F-1 visa, and passport). The airport official might ask about your plans in the U.S. Be truthful about your studies and plans in the U.S. If the information that you provide and your documents match the information in the SEVIS system, it is highly likely that you will not have a problem entering the U.S.

17. Will I need to show proof of vaccination when I enter the U.S? 

Yes, in most cases, an F-1 student and their adult dependents will need to show proof of full vaccination before boarding their flight. See Non-U.S citizen, Non-U.S. immigrants: Travel to and from the United States. Check with your airline before boarding your flight for requirements and procedures. Keep in mind that rules are subject to change. Check the link above frequently for updates. 

18. Will I need to take a COVID-19 test when I enter the U.S?

Effective June 12, 2022, the U.S. Government is no longer requiring international air passengers to show proof of COVID Testing. Vaccination Requirements are still in effect. See Non-U.S. Citizen, Non-U.S. Immigrants: Travel to and from the United States for official information. Keep in mind that rules are subject to change. Check the link above frequently for updates.

19. What do I need to know if I am traveling to the U.S

In addition to following current vaccine and testing requirements, make sure that you have the required or recommended documents listed below when you enter the U.S. and read the following sections for more specific information based on your situation. 

Required:

  • Passport that is valid 6 months into the future 
  • Valid unexpired F-1 visa 
  • I-20 with appropriate signatures. Students can receive an I-20 that is sent electronically from the school but must print and sign the paper copy.
    • New Students:
      • You need a printed I-20 that matches your electronic SEVIS record. 
      • The I-20 must have the school signature and your signature on Page 1. 
      • You cannot enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the Program Start Date on your I-20. 
    • Returning Students/OPT Students:
  • You need a printed I-20 that matches your electronic SEVIS record. 
  • The I-20 must have the school signature and your signature on Page 1 and a school travel signature on Page 2, Travel Endorsement. The signature on the Travel Endorsement section must be less than 12 months old if you are currently enrolled and less than 6 months old if you are on post-completion OPT. 

Recommended:

More information is available at https://oips.gmu.edu/travel-and-re-entry/

20. What are the rules about I-20s? What I-20 do I need to show to the Customs official at the airport?

You need to show a printed hard copy of your most recent I-20, which must match your current SEVIS record. Your name should be signed by hand in ink with a blue or black pen. The school official signature can be an electronic signature. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has confirmed in SEVP Policy Guidance: Use of Electronic Signatures and Transmission for the Form I-20 that school officials will be allowed to continue providing electronic signatures and sending students the I-20 electronically. This policy should remain in effect even after the end of COVID -19. SEVP has worked with government partners such as Customs and Border Patrol on this policy. Therefore, the airport is still allowing students to enter the U.S. with an I-20 that has a school official’s electronic signature.

21. Can I enter the U.S. with a valid F-1 visa even if I have been outside of the U.S. for more than five months?

Many students have been successful entering the U.S. with an F-1 visa that has not expired even if they have been outside of the U.S. for more than 5 months. However, it is best to check with the U.S. Embassy about any required updates to your F-1 visa before entering the U.S.

22. Do I need to show the Customs official at the airport all my I-20s?

You should show the Customs official the most recent I-20 issued to you by OIPS. The I-20 should match the information in the SEVIS system. You should keep copies of all your I-20s/DS-2019s for your records, but you do not need to show all of them to the Customs official.

23. If I have any problems at the airport, how can I contact OIPS?

The best way to contact OIPS is to call the main office line at 703-993-2970 during normal office hours, Monday – Friday, 8:30 – 5:00 p.m. At any other time, call the George Mason University Campus Police at 703-993-2810. You can provide this information to the Customs official if necessary. The Campus Police will then contact OIPS if you need urgent help.

I-94 Correction Information

24. What is an I-94?

An I-94 is an electronic record of your arrival and departure from the U.S. You can print out a copy of your I-94 here. Click on the blue Get Most Recent I-94 box and enter your information. Then, click on Next to see and print your I-94. It is a good idea to have a copy of your most recent I-94 after each entry into the U.S. and check it to make sure the information is correct. If you are traveling to the U.S. for the first time, you will need the I-94 to complete F-1 and J-1 check-in with OIPS after your entry.

25. What should I look at on my I-94?

Check to make sure that the following information is correct:

  • The Most Recent Date of Entry
  • The Class of Admission

 26. What can I do if my I-94 is not correct?

You can contact the Deferred Inspection section of the airport to try to correct your information. Often, you will need to go to the Deferred Inspection site in person. However, depending on which airport you entered, you might be able to correct the information by telephone or email. Check here for a list of Deferred Inspection sites and their contact information.

The Deferred Inspection Information for Dulles Airport is below:

Washington, D.C.
Address: Deferred Inspection Unit
Washington Dulles International Airport
1 Saarinen Circle, Main Terminal Lower Level, West End
Sterling, VA 20166
Hours of Operation: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Monday – Friday
Contact Information: Phone: (703) 661-2800, ext. 7116
Fax: (703) 661-8394
I-94 Correction Instructions: (703) 661-2800 option 4