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DHS to Roll Back Some COVID-19 Online Learning Accommodations for Foreign Students During Fall 2020 Semester

During the Fall 2020 semester, students attending schools that are operating entirely online will not be permitted to take a full online course load and remain in the United States, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has announced. The State Department will not issue F-1 student visas to students enrolled in schools or programs that are fully online during the Fall 2020 semester. CBP will not admit these students to the United States. F-1 students enrolled in fully online programs must depart the United States or transfer to a school with in-person instruction in order to maintain their lawful status. These policies also apply to M-1 vocational students.

F-1 students attending schools that are operating in a hybrid model, with a mixture of online and in-person classes, will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online and still maintain their nonimmigrant status. The student’s school must certify on the student’s I-20 certificate of eligibility for F-1 status that the program is not entirely online, the student is not taking an entirely online course load during the Fall 2020 semester and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.

Earlier this year, SEVP relaxed its policies on online study as U.S. schools moved to online learning in response to the COVID-19 emergency. F-1 students were permitted to take more online courses than usual to maintain their full course of study in the United States. Those relaxed policies will no longer be in effect.

New Forms I-20 Required for Hybrid Study

By August 4, 2020, schools must issue new I-20 forms with the requisite certifications to affected students engaging in hybrid study in the United States. F-1 students must obtain a new Form I-20 with the requisite school certifications in order to remain in the United States and maintain their student status. The school’s designated school official (DSO) must enter this information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

Remote Learning from Outside the United States

Foreign students who are enrolled in a U.S. school offering online-only classes may remain in active F-1 student status in SEVIS while living abroad if they are taking online classes and are able to meet the normal full course of study or a reduced course of study. This accommodation is only available to foreign students whose U.S. schools are operating entirely online.

Impact on F-1 Students in a Period of Practical Training

The new SEVP guidelines should not affect F-1 nonimmigrants who have completed a course of study and are working in a period of 12-month optional practical training or a STEM extension of OPT.  However, those who are enrolled in a course of study and engaging in a period of curricular practical training (CPT) while studying may be affected if their school is only offering online study during the fall semester.

Impact of Status Violations

Noncompliance by F-1 nonimmigrants or their schools with the new policies on online learning could result in violations of status, which may affect the foreign national’s ability to change their nonimmigrant status, extend a stay, or reenter the United States in the future, among other negative consequences. Schools that fail to timely report changes to their program may also jeopardize their SEVP certification.

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