On July 6, 2020, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Student and Exchange Visitor Program (ICE) announced modifications to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic for the Fall 2020 semester. Previously, ICE has stated in March 2020 that it would permit nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency. In its latest announcement, it appears that this will no longer be the case.
Beginning with the Fall 2020 semester the following rules will apply:
- 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. As the COVID 19 pandemic continues, some colleges and universities made the decision that all Fall semester classes would be held online presumably to keep students, educators and administrators safe. In light of this rule, however, any F-1 or M-1 student attending these schools would no longer be in compliance with the terms and conditions of their visa, and would either have to transfer to another school that allows in person classes, or have to leave the country immediately. Failure to do either of these options opens the student up to facing removal proceedings Furthermore, if a student was outside of the country and was attending one of these schools, they would not be issued a visa by the Department of State and U.S. Customs would not allow the student to enter the United States.
- A student on a valid F visa may still take one course or three credits online provided that their school is offering in person classes as described in the above paragraph.
- If an F-1 student attends a school adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—then they will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. Schools offering this hybrid model must certify to ICE via 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.
If a student has a valid F-1 visa, but is in their home country and is unable to travel to the U.S. either because their home country does not have available means of transportation, or the U.S. is not permitting entry, then the F-1 visa will be terminated. However, it is important to note that this termination will not be due to performance, but rather due to regulations implemented. If a student finds themself in this situation, then this will not be a bar for them to come back to the U.S. on an F-1 visa again should conditions permit.
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