UPDATED: SEVP Modifies Temporary Exemptions for Nonimmigrant Students Taking Online Courses During Fall 2020 Semester

Last Updated on February 23, 2023

July 14 update: The Trump administration has rescinded its proposed rules that would have barred international students from studying in the U.S. if their university had moved to a full course load online. The government will return to the status quo from earlier this spring, meaning international students who are in the U.S. and planning to begin the fall semester may do so, even if their courses are all online.

On July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans to amend their temporary exemptions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic for nonimmigrant students taking online classes.

What Happened?

The Department of Homeland Security is preparing to announce a final rule in which F and M students may not remain in the U.S. if they are taking their full course load online. Additionally, operational U.S. Consulates abroad will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will not permit these students to enter the U.S.

Who Does This Impact?

Broadly, this announcement impacts F-1 and M-1 students both abroad and in within the U.S. who are currently enrolled—or will be enrolled in the fall—in fully online courses. More specifically, this may impact organizations that employ students engaging in Curricular Practical Training (CPT), but is not likely to impact those students utilizing post-completion OPT or STEM OPT status with valid work authorization.

There are some allowances for online courses. For example: One (1) class, or three (3) credit hours, may be online. There are further exemptions for schools that can certify that:

  • The program is not entirely online
  • The student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester
  • The student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program

How Are Envoy Global and GIA Responding?

Both Envoy Global and Global Immigration Associates (GIA) are following the situation closely and providing updates to clients as more details become available. As an F-1 or M-1 student, the primary resource for F or M status-related questions would be the university’s Designated School Official (DSO). The DSO will provide information on the university’s current operations in regard to online courses and the subsequent impact on maintenance of status.

What Do I Need To Do Next?

GIA has advised that clients notify their students to contact their university’s DSO to discuss the impact on their program. Additional questions related to this update should be posted to the client’s legal team via the Envoy Communication Center.

About the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program is a DHS program that provides government agencies with essential data related to nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors through Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). In addition, SEVP provides approval and oversight to schools authorized to enroll F and M nonimmigrant students and gives guidance to both schools and students about the requirements for maintaining their status.

Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Ryan Bay, who is Partner, Legal Operations at Global Immigration Associates, P.C. (www.giafirm.com), Envoy’s affiliated law firm.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an Envoy-affiliated attorney or another qualified professional.