New SEVP Policy Regarding Online Education for F-1 Student

19:32 07 July in News Updates

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program Announces Changes to Online Education Policy for Foreign Students

As many U.S. schools and universities are struggling to determine how to safely and effectively educate students in light of the global pandemic, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced changes to its policy for online studies for foreign students in F-1 and M-1 status. The agency had granted some flexibility for online courses in the Spring and Summer of 2020 in light of COVID-19.  The modifications below will be in effect for the Fall 2020 semester and constitute a roll-back of the prior flexibility.

The changes are likely to have a significant impact on the ability of international students to begin or continue studies in universities which are moving to full or majority online courses due to COVID-19.

The timelines for schools to comply are extremely tight.  Schools that offer entirely online classes or will not reopen for the Fall 2020 Semester must submit an operational change plan to SEVP by July 15, 2020.  Schools that will not be entirely online but will reopen in the fall must update their plans by August 1, 2020.  Further, Designated School Officials must issue new I-20 Forms to each F-1 and M-1 student by August 4, 2020.

The Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a temporary final rule.




SEVP modifies temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online courses during fall 2020 semester

WASHINGTON – The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications Monday to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule.

Temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester include:

  1. Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. 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. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.
  2. Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
  3. Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model-that is, a mixture of online and in person classes-will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” certifying that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. The above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.


Schools should update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change if they begin the fall semester with in-person classes but are later required to switch to only online classes, or a nonimmigrant student changes their course selections, and as a result, ends up taking an entirely online course load. Nonimmigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes. If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.

Due to COVID-19, SEVP instituted a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.

F-1 nonimmigrant students pursue academic coursework and M-1 nonimmigrant students pursue vocational coursework while studying in the United States.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 07/06/2020

This update was prepared by Fausta M. Albi, Partner, Larrabee Albi Coker LLP.Legal Disclaimer:   This e-blast is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute for legal advice based on the circumstances of a specific matter.  Immigration laws and policies change frequently, often without notice.  It is therefore important to seek direct legal counsel based upon individual circumstances.

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