Updated: Jul 13, 2020
On July 6th, 2020, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) announced that international students who are pursuing degrees in the United States will have to leave the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction if their universities switch to online-only courses. With the school semester starting in about a month or two, holders of F-1 and M-1 visas as well as schools are scrambling to understand what this announcement means for them.
Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visa holders (academic and vocational students) who are attending schools that are operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. These apply to students who are about to start their schooling in the fall and to students who are currently enrolled. Thus, the U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to these categories of students and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not allow these students to enter the United States. Those who are active students must depart the country or transfer to another school that has in-person instruction, or else they may face deportation.
Nonimmigrant F-1 visa holders who are attending schools that have a hybrid model - 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 the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) through the Form I-20 that 1) their program is not entirely online; 2) the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and 3) the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required for their degree program. These exceptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees; these categories of students are not allowed to enroll in any online courses.
While nonimmigrant F-1 visa holders who are attending schools that only have in-person classes are within the federal regulations, they should be aware that if their school decided to switch to an only online program, the schools are required to update the students’ information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change.
There is not much guidance or information on how the above will be enforced; however, this announcement has caused disruption amongst the hundred thousand international students who attend U.S. universities and the universities that have announced an online-only instruction. Harvard and MIT have filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration, seeking an injunction against the directive, arguing that it violates the Administrative Procedures Act.
Meanwhile, it is too late for students to transfer to other universities and so they must reach out to their universities (especially those that have chosen to go online-only instruction) to see if the universities can find alternatives to allow the students to remain in the U.S. and/or attend.
For more information about this ruling and what it means about your immigration status, please contact us.