WASHINGTON, D.C. – Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Monday that international students, or nonimmigrant students within the United States, are prohibited from taking a full course of study through online classes. If they do, they risk losing their visa and being deported.
ICE’s decision argues that visa requirements for students have always been strict and taking online-only courses has been prohibited.
Additionally, even if international students elect to take in-person classes, there is no guarantee universities will be able to continue to offer them throughout the semester or year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
ICE says that if students find themselves in this situation, “they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.”
International students may have to leave their colleges if in-person classes are not an option for the fall semester.
Due to COVID-19, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program instituted a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters. The policy permitted nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.
Harvard announced it is going to deliver all course instruction online and other universities are following suit, which creates a challenge for many pursuing their degrees in the U.S. from foreign countries.
Temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester include:
- Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.
- Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
- Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, 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 SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” certifying that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. The above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.