On July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced a change to its temporary exemption for foreign students in the USA who are taking their classes online during the fall 2020 semester because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A temporary final rule will be published in the Federal Register by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. There are over one million international students in the USA who may be affected by these changes.
During the spring and summer semesters of 2020, the SEVP allowed student visa holders to take more online courses than normally allowed to maintain their valid visa status through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this policy will be changing for the fall semester.
Students in the U.S. for the fall 2020 semester on F-1 or M-1 visas may not take a full course load online and remain in the country.
Student visas will not be issued to students enrolled in fully-online programs that begin in Fall 2020. U.S. Customs officers will not allow students with existing F-1 or M-1 visas to enter the U.S.
Active students who are in the United States and enrolled in programs that switch to fully online courses “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction” to remain in lawful status. If they fail to do so, they are in violation of their visa status. They may be placed into removal proceedings for deportation.
Normal in-person classes are allowed, and students may take a maximum of one class (or three credit hours) online and still be in lawful status.
Student visa holders at schools adopting “hybrid” classes that are both online and in-person may take more than one class online. This option is not available to F-1 students in English language training programs or any M-1 vocational degree students, who are barred from taking any courses online.
However, in any case, the school must provide a Form I-20 for the SEVP that certifies that the student’s program is not entirely online, that the student’s courseload is not entirely online for the semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to normally progress in the degree program.
Schools, colleges and universities will be required to notify the U.S. Department of Homeland Security within 10 days if they begin the fall semester with in-person classes but are forced to move to online coursework mid-semester.
Likewise, schools will need to notify immigration authorities if a student changes their enrollment to a fully online courseload. Students who are not in compliance with these requirements will need to leave the country, change their course selection, switch schools entirely, seek authorization for medical leave, or change to a different visa status.
Student visa holders face an uncertain future. While some places are relaxing restrictions on gatherings and normal business, others are reporting more coronavirus cases. Without knowing how this fall and winter may go, student visa holders and people applying for student visas will need to plan their studies very carefully.
Prospective student visa holders and applicants will want to make sure to check course requirements for academic programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education has compiled this list of universities and colleges and each of their plans for reopening in Fall 2020.
As of July 6, 2020, this site lists schools that have announced plans to reopen online-only, including:
- California State University,
- University of Southern California,
- Los Angeles Community College District,
- Valencia College (Florida),
- Harvard University,
- University of Massachusetts-Boston,
- Southern New Hampshire University,
- Community College of Philadelphia,
- Central New Mexico Community College,
- Portland Community College (Oregon),
- Dallas County Community College District,
- Swarthmore College (Pennsylvania), and others.
Student visa holders at these schools may lose their student visa status if the school proceeds with online-only courses.
If you have a student visa and plan to study in the USA in fall 2020, you should consider taking the following precautions:
- Check with your school’s administration and international student office for accurate information about how classes will be conducted. Make sure they are aware of the updated regulation barring student visas for online-only courses.
- Research policies and deadlines for withdrawing and substituting courses at your school.
- Seek out alternative institutions that plan to offer compliant programs, even if your school currently plans to operate with in-person or hybrid coursework.
- If possible, apply for a green card or alternative visa to avoid the risk of student visa revocation.
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Joseph Alain Moro is an immigration lawyer and owner of Moro Legal, LLC, a law practice founded in Denver, Colorado. Joe helps people around the world obtain visas, green cards, and U.S. citizenship to live the American dream.
For more information, contact Moro Legal, LLC and schedule an attorney consultation.
Phone: +1 (720) 432-3720. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.