As many colleges and universities institute drastic measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, administrators need to be mindful of the impact of schedule changes on foreign students and veterans utilizing GI Bill benefits.
Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). SEVP-certified schools with nonimmigrant students studying under F or M visas must notify SEVP within 10 days of changes in either the location or means of providing instruction. In a March 9 message, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) promised to be flexible with temporary adaptations but did not address temporary closures of educational institutions. Subsequent guidance issued on March 13 more clearly delineates three scenarios—temporary school closure; temporary switch to online instruction with student remaining in U.S.; or student participates in online instruction from outside the U.S. temporarily—where nonimmigrant students would be allowed to maintain their status if the institution provides notice to SEVP.
9/11 GI Bill. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has provided several recent updates on the impact of school closures or temporary changes in the means of instruction. A Facebook posting on March 12 warned that VA did not have statutory authority to allow veterans to continue to receive GI Bill benefits for an educational program that switches to online instruction temporarily due to COVID-19 if the student’s program has not been approved by the state approving agency (SAA) for online instruction. In that case, all education benefits including housing allowance would have stopped when online training began. Congress acted quickly to remedy the situation, however, and on March 21 President Trump signed S. 3503 which gives VA new authority to continue GI Bill payments in national emergencies.
Under existing rules, a veteran’s benefits would continue for up to 4 weeks in a 12-month period if their institution temporarily closes. If the school moves to online instruction and the veteran’s program is approved for online modality by the SAA, benefits including the housing allowance would continue through the end of the term.