During the past few months, as a result of the Covid-19 health crisis, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), through its Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), instituted a temporary exemption, allowing all foreign national students in valid F-1 and M-1 status to attend full-time or part-time online courses at their universities and colleges, in or outside the United States, and maintain F-1 or M-1 status.
With the upcoming 2020 Fall Semester, this will change. These changes are outlined in SEVP’s announcement below. The most significant changes are that (1) all students that study at institutions that offer online classes only, must either leave the United States or change to an institution that offers conventional in-person classes or an institution that offers a hybrid model, a combination of online and in-person classes and (2), all F-1 and M-1 students attending classes in the United States starting with the 2020 Fall Semester must obtain a new Form I-20, whereas their school certifies that it is not operating entirely online.
For a more comprehensive explanation for students and their institutions, please watch this video:
Read the SEVP announcement here
WASHINGTON – The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications Monday to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule.
Temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester include:
Nonimmigrant 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. 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 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.
Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
Nonimmigrant 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. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” certifying 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 pursuing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
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 nonimmigrant student changes their course selections, and as a result, ends up taking an entirely online course load. Nonimmigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes. If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.