U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has modified its COVID-19 temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester for foreign students regarding attending online courses.

Key points:

  • Foreign students on F or M visas who are attending schools operating entirely online are not permitted to take a full online course load and remain in the U.S. They must depart the U.S. or find alternatives, such as transferring to a school with in-person courses, in order to remain in lawful status; if they do not, they face immigration consequences including initiation of deportation proceedings.
  • The State Department will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools that are fully online for the fall 2020 semester, and Customs and Border Protection will not permit them to enter the U.S.
  • F-1 students attending schools operating with in-person courses are bound by existing regulations and are eligible to take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
  • F-1 students attending schools operating with a combination of online and in-person classes may take more than one class or three credit hours online. The school must certify to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) using Form I-20 that the program is not entirely online and that the student is not taking a full online course load and is taking the minimum number of online classes to make normal progress in their degree program.
  • F-1 students in English language training programs and M-1 students in vocational programs are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
  • The guidance released Monday sets deadlines by which universities must report their operational plans for the fall semester to SEVP.
  • The Department of Homeland Security stated that it will publish the procedures and responsibilities described in the new guidance as a Temporary Final Rule in the Federal Register.

Background: ICE permitted exemptions for online study during the spring and summer semesters because of COVID-19. The temporary measures allowed students to take more online courses than normally permitted in order to maintain their nonimmigrant status.

Schools that begin the fall semester with in-person classes but later need to switch to online-only classes should update the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change. Similarly, if a nonimmigrant student changes his or her course selections and ends up taking an entirely online course load, the school must note this change within 10 days. For additional information, please see BAL’s summary of the ICE guidance.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact berryapplemanleiden@bal.com.

Copyright © 2020 Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. All rights reserved. Reprinting or digital redistribution to the public is permitted only with the express written permission of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. For inquiries please contact copyright@bal.com.