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Student Exchange Visitor Program Adjusts COVID Related Exemptions for Fall Semester

Yesterday, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications to the temporary exemptions that had been granted to nonimmigrant students studying in the United States.  F-1 and M-1 students will not be allowed to remain in the United States to pursue a course of study that is entirely online.

By way of background, in March 2020, SEVP instituted a temporary policy regarding online learning for students taking classes during spring and summer semesters due to COVID-19. This exemption permitted nonimmigrant F-1 (academic) and M-1 (vocational) students to take more online courses than is normally allowed by federal regulation for the purposes of maintaining a full course of study in order to maintain their F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, for the 2020 fall semester, SEVP has announced new guidance regarding students and online learning, which will soon be published as a Temporary Final Rule:  

  • Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States in nonimmigrant student status. The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in academic 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 who are currently in the U.S. and enrolled in such programs must either leave the U.S.; or transfer to a school that has in-person instruction; or convert to another visa status if they are eligible, in order to remain in lawful status. If the students do not comply, they could be subject to immigration consequences, including the initiation of removal proceedings.
  • Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations, which allow eligible students to enroll in only one class or three credit hours online per semester.
  • Nonimmigrant F-1 students who are attending schools that have adopted a hybrid 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 that the program is (i) not entirely online, (ii) that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and (iii) that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress towards their degree.
  • Nonimmigrant F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees are not permitted to enroll in any online courses, and cannot remain in the U.S. in student status unless their programs are operating normal in-person classes.

If schools switch from in-person classes to online classes mid-semester, they are required to update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change. If this results in a nonimmigrant student having an entirely online course load, the school must notify SEVIS and the nonimmigrant student will still be required to either leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status.

Please contact your Mintz Immigration Attorney with any questions.

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Lindsey Steinberg