ICE Modifies Temporary Exemptions for F-1 and M-1 Students Taking Online Courses During the Fall 2020 Semester
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) previously implemented a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters in order to ease the online class restrictions for those in the United States on a student visa. This policy permitted F-1 students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their non-immigrant status during the COVID-19 pandemic because many schools moved to online courses.
SEVP has now announced modifications to these temporary exemptions for F-1 and M-1 students who are taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will publish the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule.
The modified temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester will now include the following:
- Non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. Further, the U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) permit these students to enter the United States. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.
- Non-immigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes will be required to follow existing federal regulations – Eligible F-1 students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
- Non-immigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a “hybrid model”, meaning a mixture of online and in person classes, will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, that:
- the program is not entirely online
- that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and
- that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.
- The above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
According to SEVP, schools should update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change if they begin the fall semester with in-person classes but are later required to switch to only online classes, or a non-immigrant student changes their course selections, and as a result, ends up taking an entirely online course load. (Again, Non-immigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes). ICE announced that students who find themselves in this situation must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their non-immigrant status such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction. It is important that you first contact a qualified immigration attorney in order to discuss all options available to you.