International Students Required to Take In-Person Classes This Fall or Leave the U.S.

On July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced significant changes for international students this coming fall. SEVP manages schools and international students in the U.S.

Due to COVID-19, SEVP previously issued a temporary exemption for the spring and summer semesters. Specifically, SEVP allowed international students to take more online courses than normally permitted. However, SEVP is modifying these temporary exemptions for the upcoming fall semester.

SEVP will not permit international students attending U.S. schools entirely online to take a full online course load and remain in the U.S. Instead, SEVP requires that they either transfer to another U.S. school with in-person classes or depart the U.S. Additionally, the U.S. State Department will not issue student visas to international students enrolled in schools scheduled to be fully online this fall. And Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will not permit any such international students to enter the U.S. Students may be permitted, however, to engage in remote learning from their home country. But they will only be allowed to if they are are able to meet the normal full course of study or reduced course of study requirements.

SEVP will only permit international students attending U.S. schools operating with normal in-person instruction  to take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online. This applies only to F-1 students, not M-1 students (attending vocational or technical schools). M-1 students are not permitted to take any online courses.

SEVP’s only exemption is for those international students attending schools that will be following a “hybrid” model – providing a mixture of online and in-person classes. SEVP will permit international students at those schools to take more than one class or three credit hours online. Schools must issue new I-20s to each student by August 4, 2020. The new I-20s must certify: (1) that the school is not operating entirely online, (2) that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall semester, and (3) that the student is only taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. This exemption does not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students.

SEVP ordered schools that will be offering only online instruction or that will not be reopening in the fall to notify by July 15, 2020. SEVP also ordered schools that will not be operating entirely online but will instead be reopening with only in-person classes, delayed or shortened sessions, or a mixture of in-person and remote classes, to notify them of those plans by August 1, 2020. Schools must report any additional changes that occur mid-semester (such as a switch to online only instruction) within 10 days. International students affected by those changes must then either transfer to another school or depart the U.S.

It is expected that universities and colleges, especially those with large international student populations, will challenge these new rules. We will keep you updated of any new developments.

In the meantime, if you are an international student currently in the U.S., please contact one of our immigration attorneys for a consultation to see if they can assist you.

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