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ICE Just Announced that International Students on F-1 and M-1 Visas Must Leave the USA if Their College Goes Online-Only

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The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced via the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website today that if international students on F-1 and M-1 visas are going to schools that are doing online-only courses this fall, they must leave the country or transfer to a place with in-person instruction—or they’ll be deemed in the U.S. illegally and subject to deportation.

“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,” ICE’s website states.

The details, which were posted to ICE’s website on Monday, include information about students with F-1 and M-1 status. F-1 visa holders are nonimmigrant students pursuing academic coursework and M-1 visa holders are nonimmigrant students pursuing vocational coursework while studying in the United States.

According to ICE’s website, changes in regulation for the fall 2020 semester include:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

According to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule.”

“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,” the Student and Exchange Visitor Program stated.

We at Watch The Yard encourage our valued international student community to check with their host institution to ensure their immigration and enrollment status for the Fall.

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