On Monday, July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced new regulations for foreign university students with plans to study in the U.S. this fall.
As U.S. universities adjust their course models in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, some plan to hold in-person classes, others will operate with a hybrid of in-person and online courses, and still others plan to offer online-only courses. The new regulations state that SEVP, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will not allow foreign students to enter or remain in the U.S. if they are attending a university that offers courses online-only.
The new regulations are broken into three parts:
- Non-immigrant students on F-1 and M-1 visas are not eligible to enter or remain in the U.S. while taking a full online course load. The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to these students. Foreign students currently in the United States who are enrolled in such a program are required to depart the country or transfer to another university offering in-person instruction.
- Non-immigrant F-1 students attending a university operating normally must follow existing regulations when it comes to balancing online and in-person classes. Students on an F visa may take a maximum of one class or 3 credit hours online.
- Non-immigrant F-1 students attending a university shifting to a hybrid model will be permitted to take more than one class / 3 credit hours online. These schools must submit a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” to SEVP affirming that their program is not totally online, that the student’s course load is not entirely online, and that the student is taking the minimum possible number of online classes required to make progress in their degree program.
The above regulations do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or to M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees (who are not allowed to enroll in online classes to begin with).
In the case that a school begins the semester with in-person classes but switches to online-only classes during the semester, the school is required to update that information with SEVIS within 10 days of the change. Non-immigrant students in the U.S. are not allowed to take a full course load online. Those who end up in this situation are required to leave the country, reduce their course load, take medical leave if appropriate, or transfer to another school.
The fall semester in the U.S. usually begins in late August or early September, leaving F-1 and M-1 students scrambling to make appropriate arrangements should they happen to discover their university is going online only.