On July 6, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security announced major modifications to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) for F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant students who will be taking online classes for the Fall 2020 semester due to the COVID-19 outbreak basically removing the normal exceptions to online classes that have been in place in terms of maintaining student visa status.
The modifications include the following:
1. F-1 and M-1 students attending schools that will operate entirely online during the Fall 2020 semester may not take a full online course load and remain in the U.S. in F-1 or M-1 status. Additionally, the U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are entirely online for the Fall 2020 semester, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will not admit these students to the U.S. in F-1 or M-1 nonimmigrant status. F-1 and M-1 students currently in the U.S. and enrolled in schools and/or programs that will be entirely online for the Fall 2020 semester must transfer to a school offering in-person instruction in order to maintain their F-1 or M-1 nonimmigrant status.
2. Nonimmigrant F-1 students who are enrolled in schools operating under normal, in-person classes are bound by existing immigration regulations and can take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online. All other courses must be in-person.
3. Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools that have a mixture of online and in-person classes will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. However, these schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status that the program is not entirely online; the F-1 student is not taking an entirely online course load for the Fall 2020 semester, and the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. Note that these exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs, or M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees, as these students are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
The impact on F1 students is the following:
Newly admitted international students hoping to arrive at US campuses this fall will not be issued visas to enter the US if their classes are entirely online. Further, the regulation will have severe financial implications for American colleges that accepted more than one million students from India, China, and South Korea for the prior academic year due to the fact that international students pay full tuition at higher rates than most domestic students.