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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued clarifying questions for fall 2020 students, announcing that new and initial students on F and M visas will not be permitted to enter the United States if they attend universities that only offer online courses this fall.
The new policy will not affect the ability of previously enrolled F and M students who have maintained their status to attend universities with fully online coursework. ICE also indicated that F or M students who attend schools with a mix of in-person and online classes should also not be impacted. Additionally, recent graduates in an active SEVIS status will be able to continue to work during their 12-month optional practical training (OPT) period or a STEM OPT extension, if applicable.
Background: The July 24 announcement followed legal wrangling over ICE’s move earlier last month to bar all F and M students from taking a full online course load this fall. After a number of universities sued over the July policy, ICE backed down and the agency agreed to extend temporary COVID-19 measures implemented in March. These measures allow foreign students to take more online courses than normally permitted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
BAL Analysis: The change will limit the ability of some new and initial students on F and M visas to come to the United States and enroll in their universities this fall, especially given that a number of schools have announced plans to hold fall semester classes mostly or entirely online. The policy will not affect previously enrolled students who have maintained their status or the ability of previously enrolled students to obtain practical training authorization. A number of questions remain unanswered, including whether the State Department will issue visas to new students who have already been issued a valid Form I-20. BAL continues to monitor the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will provide updates on key developments as information becomes available.
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