On July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued modifications to the temporary exemptions put in place due to COVID-19. Prior to COVID-19, students that held F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant visas were only allowed to take one class or three credit hours online. When many schools went online due to the pandemic in the spring of 2020; however, SEVP issued exemptions to the aforementioned rule so that F-1 and M-1 students could continue their studies in the United States.
With the 2020 fall semester fast approaches and an increasing number of schools are moving to fully online or hybrid classes for the semester, SEVP has modified the temporary exemptions and made it clear that F-1 and M-1 visa holders will not be allowed to take a full online course load and still remain in the United States. In fact, F-1 and M-1 visa holders will only be able to take one class online if they want to continue their studies in the United States. If students holding an F-1 or M-1 visa are attending a school that is planning to be fully online in the fall, SEVP suggests that the only way to avoid deportation is for those students to transfer to a school with in person classes.
If this policy is not rescinded quickly, both international students and universities will have to make hard decisions. F-1 and M-1 visa holders that are taking more than one class online in the fall will be forced either to leave the United States or transfer to a university planning to offer in person classes. On the other hand, universities will face the decision to either risk the public's health by increasing in person classes so that its international students can stay in the United States or risk having their international students be forced out of the country. Actions are already being taken in an attempt to rescind ICE's policy. For example, Harvard and MIT filed a Federal Lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE. In this lawsuit, Harvard and MIT call for a temporary restraining order to be put in place to keep ICE and Homeland Security from enforcing SEVP's policy.
This article is provided as an educational service and is not legal advice. Consult with an attorney for your specific circumstances. For a comprehensive evaluation of your immigration situation and options, you are invited to call me at 214-494-8033, complete my contact form.