News & Articles

ICE Announces New Policy Impacting Foreign Students Attending Online Classes

Published on July 8, 2020; Updated on July 14, 2020

UPDATE – On July 14, 2020, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has agreed to rescind the policy that would have required international students to depart the U.S. if their schools held classes entirely online.  This means that foreign students in F-1 and M-1 status who only attend online classes in the fall 2020 will be able to maintain their status in the U.S. and will not face possible deportation for failing to attend in-person classes.

On July 6, 2020, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced that starting this fall 2020, it will limit exemptions previously provided to foreign national students taking more online courses than normally permitted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether a student may remain in the U.S. in F-1 or M-1 status will depend on the school’s approach to combating the spread of COVID-19 and whether the school is offering in-person courses for fall 2020.

  • If the school is operating entirely online—students may no longer take a full online course load and remain in the United States in F-1 or M-1 status. Therefore, F-1 and M-1 students who are in active status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and currently in the United States, and who are enrolled in a program that is operating entirely online, must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person courses available to maintain their lawful status.F-1 and M-1 Students who are in active status in SEVIS may take a full online course load outside of the United States and maintain their active status in the SEVIS system. The designated school officials (DSOs) should annotate the student’s record to clearly indicate the circumstances.Further, the Department of State will not issue visas to new students enrolled in online-only programs, and the Custom and Border Protection will not admit these students.
  • If the school is operating under a hybrid model—“a mixture of online and in person classes,” students may take more than one class or three credit hours online and remain in the United States, with a new, certified Form I-20 from the school. By August 4, 2020, the DSO must certify through the Form I-20 that (1) the school is not operating entirely online, (2) the student is not taking an entirely online course load, and (3) the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. Students enrolled in hybrid institutions may not engage in remote learning from their home country while maintaining their SEVIS status. Electronic Form I-20 issuance is still allowed for fall 2020. This exemption under the hybrid model does not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursuing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.
  • If the school is operating normally with in-person classes—students must meet existing federal regulations and take a maximum of one course or three credit hours online.

Schools operating entirely online or not reopening in fall 2020 must notify SEVP of their plans by July 15, 2020. Schools whose operation is in-person, delayed, shortened, or hybrid must notify SEVP by August 1, 2020. Schools must report subsequent changes to their program within 10 days of the change.

This new policy is set to take effect at the start of the 2020 fall semester, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the policy in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule.

Please note that since the policy requires F-1 and M-1 students to take at least one in-person class to maintain lawful status, it is possible that students working for an employer pursuant to CPT authorization could be impacted, if they are not attending any in-person classes.

If you are a foreign student in F-1 or M-1 status and have questions regarding the impact of this policy on your ability to maintain your status and stay in the U.S., or if you are an employer with employees in F-1 status working pursuant to CPT authorization, we recommend contacting the immigration attorneys at Ryan Swanson to discuss your options.

Amy Royalty can be reached at [email protected]
Marsha Mavunkel can be reached at [email protected].
Cody Nunn can be reached at [email protected].
Jen Chen can be reached at [email protected].
Janet Cheetham can be reached at [email protected].
Joel Paget can be reached at [email protected].


This message has been released by the Immigration Group at Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland, PLLC to advise of recent developments in the law. Because each situation is different, this information is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice on any specific facts and circumstances. Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland, PLLC is a full-service law firm located in Seattle, Washington.

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