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Alert: ICE Modifies SEVP Temporary Exemptions to Restrict Foreign Students from Online Courses amid COVID

July 7, 2020

The United States — The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications to the temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to publish the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule.

Schools that will operate entirely online for Fall 2020:

  • F-1 and M-1 students may NOT take a full online course load and remain in the U.S.

  • The Department of State (DOS) will not issue visas to F-1 or M-1 students enrolled in fully online schools or programs, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will not permit entry to the U.S.

  • Active students currently in the U.S. must depart or transfer to a school with in-person instruction to avoid removal proceedings.

Schools that will operate under normal in-person classes for Fall 2020:

  • Eligible F-1 students may take up to 1 class or 3 credit hours online.

  • Otherwise bound by existing federal regulations.

Schools that will operate with a hybrid approach (i.e., a mix of online and in-person classes) for Fall 2020:

  • Eligible F-1 students may take more than 1 class or 3 credit hours online.

  • Schools must certify to SEVP via Form I-20 that:

    • Program is not entirely online, AND

    • An F-1 student is not taking an entirely online course load, AND

    • An F-1 student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make standard progress in the degree program.

None of the above exemptions apply to F-1 students in English language training programs nor M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees as these individuals are not permitted to enroll in ANY online courses.

Schools must update the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days if either:

  • School begins Fall 2020 semester with in-person classes but later requires a switch to only online classes, OR

  • Any nonimmigrant student changes their course selections resulting in 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.

EIG recommends that students connect directly with their Designated School Officer (DSO) to discuss any concerns regarding their ability to stay and study in the U.S. EIG is closely watching the situation and will provide updates as more information becomes available.