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USA: No Student Visas For Online Only Courses

The United States has announced changes for student visas, say that “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.”

This comes as numerous schools have switched to online only learning in order to maintain social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the United States having widespread cases, with over 3 million confirmed cases as of this writing.

A CNN story said, “International students who are pursuing degrees in the United States will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only courses, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday.

“The move may affect thousands of foreign students who come to the United States to attend universities or participate in training programs, as well as non-academic or vocational studies. Universities nationwide are beginning to make the decision to transition to online courses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“At Harvard, for example, all course instruction will be delivered online, including for students living on campus. For international students, that opens the door to them having to leave the US.”

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] website said, “The Student & 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.”

According to the U.S. Consulate website, “Bermudian citizens currently do not require a visa to attend school in the United States. Presentation of the I-20 for academic or vocational studies or the DS-2019 for exchange visitor’s form plus proof of financial support to the U.S. Customs and Border Protections officer at the port of entry is sufficient for students to attend school in the United States. You will also need to present your SEVIS fee receipt. However, many students report that obtaining a visa eases their transition into student life. For instance, it is required in order to obtain a U.S. driver’s license or other documentation in many states.”

However due to the ever changing landscape during the pandemic, Bermudian students in the USA who are taking online only courses may want to check directly with their school and/or the U.S. Consulate to ensure they are within regulations.