The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which is part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced changes to the exemptions that they had for F and M students during the COVID-19. They made in-person classes mandatory for Fall 2020 and gave guidance for schools and F1 and M visa students for Fall 2020. We will look at all the news release, including previous exemptions, online class related regulations in this article.
DHS/ ICE were sued for the SEVP guidance in this article by MIT and Harvard. Eventually, DHS canceled the below policy guidance given to Students. So, the below article does not apply. Check more at Lawsuit against DHS by MIT & Harvard.
We believe, it is very important to understand the background of any issue or news, so that everyone understands the actual facts and can relate the current news to the official rules.
Background: Number of Online Classes Official Regulation
In general, as per regulation, you can take only one online class or 3 credits per semester or quarter that counts towards your degree or the F1 study requirement. This is not new requirement for F1 students as they need to be enrolled full time during any semester. Usually F1 students take about 9 credits or 3 courses in most of the schools for full time status. As per regulation, they should take at least 6 credits or two courses that are in-person instruction. See below screenshot of regulation 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G). For more read Credit Hours – F1 Full Time Status
Now that we know the regulation, let’s look at the exemptions given for COVID-19 by SEVP.
Previous COVID-19 Exemptions given to US schools by SEVP
SEVP issued a guidance on March 9th, 2020 saying that they want to ensure non-immigrant F an M visa students are able to continue studies during the pandemic to meet the federal regulations. They did not restrict full online course load or put in any restrictions for F and M students enrolled and already in US. SEVP said that they were giving flexibility to schools on how to adapt to their procedures to comply with local state regulations. Also, they said that Schools need not give prior intimation on the adaptions that they are doing during pandemic but are required to report those changes to SEVP for mandatory compliance. See below guidance screenshot.
They also issued a SEVP Reporting Template for reporting the same. It has details like if they classes are held online and how schools are making sure F1 students are maintain status. See below screenshot of few questions.
In summary, as of today, SEVP gave that flexibility option to schools to ensure F1 students are enrolled either online or in-person and meet the full-time study requirements. Now, this flexibility will change from Fall 2020. Let’s look at the details.
You may watch the below YouTube video as well, it covers all the news in the article.
SEVP Changes in Exemptions for Fall 2020 for F and M Students
Below are the temporary exemptions changes by SEVP for Fall 2020 that are applicable to F1 and M students.
Full Online Courses – Leave US, Cannot enter, No Visas given
If the school (university) that F1 or M student is currently attending or planning to attend is going to be operating in full online courses mode, then below are the restrictions applicable for such students.
- No full online courses : Current F and M students attend such schools cannot take full online course load and be in US. They need to depart US, if all their course are going to be online.
- No F1 or M Visas Given : US Dept of State will not issue F1 or M visas to students, who plan to attend such schools that offer full online course in Fall 2020.
- CBP will NOT allow : Even, if you have F or M visa stamp in passport, CBP will not allow you to enter US, if the school you plan to attend is offering all the program related courses online only for Fall 2020
- Depart US or Transfer to in-person school : If you are enrolled in schools that offer full online classes only, you should depart US or transfer to other schools that offer in-person classes to remain in lawful status.
- Can be deported : If you do not leave US or transfer schools in situations as described above with full online classes, you can be subject to deportation. You need to follow the guidelines given by ICE and SEVP.
Normal in-Person Classes schools – only One online Course
If F and M visa students are attending schools that offer normal in-person classes, in such cases, they need to comply with federal regulation as explained above in the background section of article and enroll in only one online class or 3 credit hours only.
Hybrid Model Schools with In-person and Online Classes
If the schools that students are attending or plan to attend will adopt a hybrid model, meaning mix of online and in-person classes, then they will be allowed to take more than one online class or three credit hours online. Technically, what they mean is the course work for a class would be a mix of online lectures or activities and in-person lectures or activities. All such schools should certify in I-20 indicating that the program is not fully online, and student is not taking more than one online course load for Fall 2020 semester.
Below is the actual screenshot of key changes sent to all the stakeholders.
Changes by School to Full Online Courses midway during Semester
If a University changes its stance midway during semester to do full online classes, in such cases, F and M students have to depart US or find alternatives to transfer to in-person classes school to maintain status. If not, they will be violating their status.
English Language Training Programs or M1 students – No online classes
The hybrid model or any of the above listed exemptions for taking online are not allowed or permitted for M1 Students or F1 students enrolled in English Language training Programs. The reason is, as per regulation, online classes are not allowed for such students. See below regulations info screenshots of 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v) and 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G)
New I-20s to be Issued with remarks for Fall 2020
If a student is planning to attend Fall 2020 or already in US and continuing studies in Fall 2020, they need to get New I-20 from Designated School Officials (DSOs) indicating that the school is not operating in full online courses mode and student is not taking full online courses for Fall 2020 semester. This info needs to be updated in the Remarks Filed in I-20.
SEVP also announced to re-issue all I-20s for Fall 2020 within 21 business days from today, which is August 4, 2020. Also, they said to prioritize fall 2020 students arriving to US from outside of US.
Taking Courses by Staying outside of US, can maintain Active SEVIS
All continuing F and M visa students, who are outside of US as their university only offers full online courses, can have active status in SEVIS, if they take full course load to meet F and M study visa requirements. They need to get new I-20 from DSO that has annotation telling that student is outside of US but taking full course as the school is only offering online courses for Fall 2020. They also clarified in FAQs that it can be done. Check below and Official FAQs by SEVP
OPT, CPT, STEM OPT Students can continue normally
SEVP also said that current F1 students engaged in approved practical training like CPT during program study or working on OPT, STEM OPT that is done after degree program can remain in active status and continue their practical training. See below guidance
SEVP also instructed schools to inform them on their operational plans for Fall 2020 for their school, so that they can have oversight. Schools need to inform SEVP, if they are going to be fully online, in-person or hybrid mode of operation.
These changes to restrict entry of F and M visa students and also making some of them leave US, come on top the US entry ban of H1B, H4, L and other visa holders. This change is going to impact many schools plans to operate remotely considering the safety of everyone….It is going to impact dreams of many students planning to study in US. What do you think of the change?