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ICE Limits Online Learning Exemptions for International Students: Full Online Course Load Prohibited

7 Jul

On July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which is administered by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), announced modifications to temporary exemptions related to the in-person instruction of international students for the upcoming fall 2020 semester. Per the ICE announcement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule. This change will have substantial implications for students who are enrolled in schools and/or programs that are 100% online.

The regulations governing F-1 and M-1 student status limit the amount of coursework that such students can complete online. In March 2020, ICE waived these requirements as a result of widespread class cancellations and school closures due to the coronavirus epidemic. These temporary exemptions had allowed F-1 and M-1 students to take more online courses in the spring and summer semesters than is ordinarily permitted without jeopardizing their immigration status. 

New limits to these exemptions were announced on July 6 for the fall 2020 semester. The new restrictions will primarily affect F-1 and M-1 students that are enrolled full-time in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester with no option for in-person classes. Students in such online-only schools or programs will no longer be eligible for visas, will be denied entry into the United States, and will be required to depart the United States unless they transfer to a school with in-person instruction.  Failure to transfer to another school with in-person instruction would be considered a violation of the student’s status and could lead to removal of the student from the United States by ICE.

F-1 students attending schools that are operating with normal in-person classes will again be limited to the standard maximum of one class or three credit hours online.  All other classes must be in-person. 

F-1 students attending schools that are operating with a mixture of online and in-person classes (hybrid model) will continue to be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online so long as the schools properly and timely certify on the student’s Form I-20 that: 

  1. The program is not entirely online; 
  2. The student is not taking an entirely online courses load; and 
  3. The student is taking the number of online classes required to make normal progress in his or her degree program. 

Additionally, F-1 students in English language training programs and M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees are not allowed to enroll in any online courses. 

Foster will continue to monitor changes related to non-immigrant student requirements and will make additional updates available via our firm’s website at