The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which is run by ICE, recently announced that F-1 and M-1 students will have to leave the country unless part of their course load this fall is taken in-person. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the spring and summer 2020 semesters, SEVP had granted a temporary exemption to federal regulations that restrict online courses for these students, allowing them to take online courses while remaining in the United States. As of July 6, 2020 ICE/SEVP withdrew that exemption and replaced it with the following stricter rules for the fall 2020 semester:
- If attending a school that requires full-time online study, non-immigrant F-1 and M-1 students may not remain in the United States and no new visas will be issued for students of these schools. Customs and Border Protection will not permit these students to enter the United States. SEVP states that non-immigrant students enrolled in full-time online courses may face “immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings” if the student does not depart the United States or “take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.”
- If attending a school that operates under normal in-person classes, existing federal regulations regarding online study apply (i.e., eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online).
- If attending a school that operates under a hybrid model (mixture of online and in-person classes), non-immigrant F-1 students will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. However, the school must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” 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. Some exceptions apply.
If a school changes to full-time online study mid-semester or a non-immigrant student changes their course selections to result in an entirely online course load, the non-immigrant student must leave the country or “take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.” Schools must update the student’s information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change to a full-time online course load.
SEVP has indicated that continuing F and M students whose school is only offering online coursework may engage in remote learning from their home country and may remain in Active status in SEVIS if they are able to meet the normal course of study requirements. Schools should annotate the student’s record with this information.
By August 4, 2020, schools must issue new Forms I-20 for each student attending school in the United States for fall 2020, certifying that the school is not operating entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.
By: Camiel Becker and Clare Bienvenu