By Samantha Davis, Immigration Lawyer, Richmond, VA
Regulations require F and M students to limit online classes to one class or three credit hours per semester. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) originally instituted a temporary exemption that allowed F and M students to take more online courses than normally allowed for purposes of maintaining a full course of study due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 6, 2020 SEVP announced that those temporary exemptions would not continue for the Fall 2020 semester.
F and M students attending schools that will be operating entirely online due to safety precautions surrounding the continuing pandemic will not be able to remain in the United States and maintain F or M status. Those students must make travel arrangements to either leave the country, transfer to a school with in-person instruction or file for a change of status or adjustment of status (green card). Additionally, if those students are currently outside of the US, 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.
F and M students attending schools that will be offering a mixture of in-person and online classes will be allowed to take more than the one class or three credit hours online. Schools that will be operating under this hybrid model of classes must certify to SEVP that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the Fall semester and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.
If a school changes its approach on classes mid-semester and as a result an F or M student switches to online only classes, those students must unfortunately leave the country at that point as they are not permitted to maintain an online only course load and will be considered out of status. Students that are forced to leave the country may remain in Active status in SEVIS if they are taking online courses and able to meet the normal full course of study requirements. Only students enrolled at a school that is offering online only classes, with no in person classes, may continue to study remotely.
As the pandemic continues to impact states and force closures to promote health and safety, schools will continue to make Fall 2020 semester decisions. If you are an F or M student, it is critically important to stay updated on your school’s plans for the upcoming semester and stay in touch with your school’s DSO.
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