U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday that international students “need not take a full online course load and remain in the United States” during the fall 2020 semester, as schools and universities across the country consider how to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
International students on nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visas cannot remain in the U.S. or legally enter the U.S. if their studies are entirely online, and students whose schools are online-only should transfer to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.
Students at schools offering a hybrid of in-person and online learning will be permitted to take any preferable online courses and remain in the country, though the school must certify “that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester.”
The rule will also apply to students whose course loads change mid-semester, with ICE noting that students who change course selections or are required to switch to online-only learning must notify the agency within 10 days.
Students who remain in the U.S. while taking only online courses may face “immigration consequences” including the initiation of removal proceedings.
According to the Institute of International Education and U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, there were 1,095,299 international students in the U.S. during the 2018-2019 academic year. Also, the new ICE announcement comes as schools and universities have been considering how to safely reopen in the fall, with major universities like Harvard and Princeton imposing restrictions on students’ return that will force some students to stay off-campus and learn remotely for entire semesters at a time.
The current administration has halted new green cards from being issued for most immigrants and suspending H-1B and other work visas through the end of the year. For more information regarding the changing immigration policies, seek your immigration attorney for help.