F-1 M-1 International Students Can Take Full Online Courses & Remain in U.S.

On July 14, 2020 after lawsuits filed by several states, Harvard and MIT, the Trump administration said it would no longer require international students to attend in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic in order to remain in the country.
DHS and ICE rescind or ended the policy barring International Students from taking online courses due to COVID-19. ICE will revert back to the guidance it issued in March that allows foreign students to take online courses to reside in the United States on F-1/M-1 visas. ICE agreed to a resolution less than five minutes into a hearing for the case Harvard and MIT filed last week
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On July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications  to a temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester. In summary, F-1 M-1 students taking full online courses cannot remain in U.S. – they must attend in-person classes full-time for the fall 2020 semester.
Temporary exemptions 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.

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.

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.

Orlando Immigration Lawyer Gail Seeram advises F-1 and M-1 students to seek guidance from their school counselor.  If the F-1 M-1 students taking full online courses at current school then maybe the student may want to transfer to another school that has in-person classes so not to violate their F-1 M-1 status.

For more information on F-1 M-1 students taking full online courses,

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