F and M Visa Holders May Not Remain in the United States if their Courses are Online Only

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By Kirti Kalra, Angelita Chavez, and Deepika Singh

On July 6, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced updates to guidance regarding F and M student visa holders will no longer be eligible for valid nonimmigrant status if they are enrolled in fully online courses for the fall 2020 semester.

What Does this Mean for International Students?

To contain the spread of COVID-19, many US schools are transitioning to fully or partially online classes. However, international students attending normal in-person classes are only allowed a maximum of one class or three credit hours online to meet federal requirements.  The US Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester.

Students with existing visas will not be allowed to remain in the United States on valid status if they are enrolled in a fully online program. Currently F and M visa holders in the United States that are actively enrolled in any programs will be required to depart or transfer to other schools which allow in-person instruction to maintain lawful status. Otherwise they may face immigration penalties which may include being placed in removal proceedings.

Exceptions for Hybrid Models: In-Person and Online Classes

F and M students may remain in valid status if their schools adopt a hybrid model, combining in-person and online classes.

If an F-1 student attends school which adopts a hybrid model (a combination of online and in-person classes), they can take more than one class or three credit hours online. Schools must follow Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidelines to adopt a hybrid model. F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees may not enroll in any online courses.

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