SEVP Modifies Temporary Exemptions for Nonimmigrant Students Taking Online Classes in Fall 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools are choosing to continue with strictly online learning only for the upcoming 2020 fall semester. As a result, thousands of international students may be required to return back to their native countries to do their online schooling instead of being able to stay within the United States. Following up with this announcement, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students that are taking online classes this fall due to the global pandemic. The temporary exemptions include:

  • 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 U.S. enrolled in these programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction. If not, they may face immigration consequences such as removal proceedings.
  • 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.
  • Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model 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, 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. These exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.

Schools within the United States should update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System within 10 days of the change if they start the fall semester with in-person classes but are later mandated to switch to online classes, or a nonimmigrant student changes their course selections and ends up taking an online only course load. Nonimmigrant students in the U.S. are not permitted to take a full course or study through online only classes. Students in these situations must leave the country or take alternative steps to keep their immigration status. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule.

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