Entry & Exit IssuesImmigration legislation & policyUpdated guidance for Student Visa holders on F-1 and M-1

We would like to share the information below pertaining ICE’s updated guidance for Student Visa holders on F-1 and M-1 whose programs will offer online-only courses in the fall semester.

Pursuant to its latest release below, ICE has modified the temporary exemptions for online courses implemented in Spring and Summer semesters due to COVID-19. Students may NOT remain in the US on an F-1 if their fall semester program will be online only.

F-1 visa holders whose fall semester program will be online only must either transfer schools, depart the US or apply for a change of status to another visa before the fall semester. F-1 students whose schools adopt a “hybrid model” may remain in US and take SOME of their course online but school must make a special certification on I-20 as detailed in release below.

F-1 visa holders studying English and M-1 visa holders in a vocational program are not eligible to take any of their classes online and must transfer schools or depart if their program is unable to fully resume in person classes. Please confirm with your Designated Student Officer whether your school will be able to resume classes in a manner consistent with this guidance and if not consult with a licensed and experienced immigration attorney about your options. Please read ICE Release in detail below and circulate to anyone you believe may be affected. Thank you.

SEVP modifies temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online courses during fall 2020 semester

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 pursing 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.

Due to COVID-19, SEVP instituted a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.

F-1 nonimmigrant students pursue academic coursework and M-1 nonimmigrant students pursue vocational coursework while studying in the United States.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 07/06/2020
Source: ICE website


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