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Jul 7, 2020

SEVP Modifies Temporary Exemptions for International Students Taking Online Courses During the Fall 2020 Semester

Emily M. Cohen

On Monday, July 6th the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced that it has implemented modifications to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online courses during the Fall 2020 semester. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a change in policy had permitted nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than usually permitted by Federal regulations to maintain their nonimmigrant status. These modifications are now making it more difficult for students to maintain their student status if in person classes are not available.  Some of these modifications include the following:

  • F-1 and M-1 students attending schools which operate entirely online during the Fall 2020 semester may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.
  • Active students currently residing in the United States enrolled in programs operating entirely online must depart the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.
  • Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations and may only take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online. This is a change to the guidelines released in March that temporarily allowed F-1 and M-1 students to count online classes towards their full course load due to COVID-19.
  • Schools operating on a hybrid model must certify that the program is not entirely online, that students are not taking an entirely online course load, and that students are taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.  F-1 students in hybrid programs will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.
  • F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
  • The Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and programs operating fully online and those students will be denied entry to the United States.

The announcement by SEVP makes it clear that international students may face immigration consequences including but not limited to the initiation of removal proceedings if they are not properly enrolled in the required number of in person classes.

This is a time when international students are confused and worried about their status.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to our Office for further guidance and support.

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Emily M. Cohen

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