Exemptions for F-1 and M-1 Students taking Online Classes during the 2020 Fall Semester.

Posted on Jul 13, 2020

UPDATE: The Trump administration reversed its position on July 13, 2020 which would require F-1 and M-1 students to take at least one in-person course during the fall semester. Thus, the information in this blog post below has been superseded and is no longer applicable. This content, however, will be maintained for historical purposes.

In the spring of 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (the SEVP) instituted a temporary exemption for F-1 (academic) and M-1 (vocational) nonimmigrant students regarding online courses for the 2020 spring and summer semesters due to COVID-19. This policy permitted F-1 and M-1 students to take more online courses than normally permitted by existing federal regulation so that they could maintain their nonimmigrant status in the U.S. during the COVID-19 global emergency.

On July 6, 2020, the SEVP released certain modifications to temporary exemptions for F-1 and M-1 students taking online courses during their 2020 fall semester. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced that it will publish these procedures and responsibilities as a Temporary Final Rule in the Federal Register.

The Temporary exemptions for the 2020 Fall semester are:

  • F-1 and M-1 students who are attending schools that operate entirely online may NOT remain in the United States and take a full online course load.
  • The U.S. Department of State will NOT issue new visas to any students who are enrolled in schools or academic programs that are entirely online for the Fall semester.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection will NOT permit students to enter the U.S. if they are enrolled in schools or academic programs in the Fall semester that are entirely online.
  • To remain in lawful status, active students who are currently enrolled in all online academic programs in the U.S. must either depart the U.S. or take other active measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instructional courses.
  • F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by and must continue to comply with existing federal regulations. Eligible F-1 students may only take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
  • F-1 students attending schools that have adopted a hybrid model (which is a combination of online and in-person classes) will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. These schools that have adopted a hybrid model must certify to SEVP on Form I-20 that: (1) the program is not entirely online; (2) the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester; and (3) that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.

Note also that the above exemptions DO NOT apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees, as these students are not permitted to enroll in ANY online courses.

Schools have also been advised to 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 if an F-1 or M-1 student changes their course selections resulting in an entirely online course load. Again, F-1 and M-1 students in the U.S. are NOT permitted to take a full course of online-only classes. Any F-1 or M-1 students who find themselves in this situation are advised to leave the U.S. or to take other steps to maintain their nonimmigrant statuses, such as medical leave or a reduced course load.

If you have questions about this the new regulations which relate to F-1 and M-1 students, contact U.S. Immigration Lawyer, Sean D. Hummel at (954) 385-3111 or sean@hummelaw.com to schedule your consultation today.

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