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DHS Restricts Online Learning for F and M Students Beginning Fall Semester 2020

Based on a new policy, international students hoping to take online courses could be faced with a difficult choice this fall. Due to Covid-19, many post-secondary schools ramped up the use of online classes. Normally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) restrict visa eligibility for international students on M and F visas enrolled in online courses. When Covid-19 hit, SEVP instituted a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer 2020 semesters, permitting nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted.

On July 6, 2020, SEVP re-modified its policy of temporary exemptions for students on F and M visas taking online courses. Under the new policy, SEVP has eliminated most (but not all) of the Covid-19 exemptions on online learning. The new policy will cause considerable problems for students whose schools will rely on online learning for the fall 2020 semester, or for students who merely wanted to stay safe.

Policy Highlights:

  • F-1 students in English training programs enrolling in even a single online course will be in violation of status if in the U.S. Department of State will not issue visas for these programs.
  • M-1 students enrolling in even a single online course will be in violation of status. Department of State will not issue visas for these programs.
  • F-1 and M-1 students whose schools only offer online courses cannot take a full online course load. They will be denied visas and, if present, must depart the US.
  • F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
  • 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 (via the I-20) that the program is not entirely online, the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.

I Am Affected. What Can I Do?

If you are affected by the new policy, you should contact your SEVIS officer and immigration counsel immediately. At David F. Vedder, P.A., we can help you work with your school to comply with the new SEVP policy. Or, if your education plan is no longer feasible, we can assist in building a new plan to allow you to stay in the U.S. lawfully and safely.

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