The Evolution of United States Immigration Policy for International Students during COVID-19

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By: Navdeep Meamber, Deepika Singh, and Hemaxi Shah

At the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, F and M students could take classes remotely. This allowed schools to maintain social distancing protocols while students could continuously maintain their immigration status in the US. On July 26, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enacted policy requiring international students to leave the United States if their courses were fully online for the fall 2020 semester. After multiple lawsuits, DHS rescinded the policy for existing students only on July 14, 2020.

Remote Learning Policy for International Students during the Pandemic

Initially, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) simply asked schools to maintain updated records for each international student. With the new policy, ICE and DHS wanted to push schools to adopt a hybrid model where some classes could be taken online, but most would be in-person. Course credit would be determined based on the number of in-person classes students took. Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) required schools to report their hybrid model plans within a certain timeframe.

Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts federal court against ICE and DHS, holding that the policy forced them to choose between their students’ health and allowing their international students to remain in the country. A coalition of US states also supported the lawsuit. Many others challenged the policy, including the state of New York and the University of California.  

Policy Overturned for Existing F and M Students

On July 14, 2020, DHS rescinded the policy directive for existing F and M students only. International students who currently hold an F or M visa can continue to take online classes and maintain their status while in the US. New students obtaining F and M visas abroad will not be allowed to enter the United States if their courses are 100% online.

Adapted Learning Models for New International Students

Schools are trying to craft plans that promote student health and safety while also moving toward a hybrid model to enable them to accept new international students. A report released last month by the Institute of International Education (IIE) found that 87% of colleges and universities are planning to offer hybrid instruction in fall 2020.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently selected additional H-1B registrations for fiscal year 2021. This additional round of H-1B visa selections is good news for international students.


For help understanding United States policy for international students, please contact your trusted Chugh, LLP attorney.


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