Foreign Students may again remain in the U.S. even if their college or university opts for online-only instruction during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

During a hearing on July 14, 2020 in a case filed by Harvard University and MIT, U.S., District Judge Allison D. Burroughs in Boston announced that the government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020 Policy Directive and the July 7, 2020 FAQ, which aimed to block international students from living in the U.S. if they planned to take their courses entirely online.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) instituted a temporary exemption regarding the online study policy for the 2020 spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted F and M students to take more online courses than normally allowed for purposes of maintaining a full course of study to maintain their F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.

However, on July 6, 2020, ICE announced DHS’s plans to publish modifications as a temporary final rule in the Federal Register to the temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to COVID-19 for the fall 2020 semester.

ON July 6 ICE announced the following modificiations (NOW RESCINDED) to the temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester :

  • 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 or potentially face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.
  • 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 (see 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G)).
  • 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,” that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 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, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses (see 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v))).

In sum, The Government will return to the March 9, 2020 and March 13, 2020 policy that allows international students to remain in the U.S. even if their college or university opts for online-only instruction during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This moots the temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction motions,and will preclude enforcement of the July 6, 2020 policy directive and July 7, 2020 FAQ, which are being rescinded on nationwide basis.(The case is President and Fellows of Harvard College et al. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security et al., case number 1:20-cv-11283, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.)

If you need professional immigration advice and/or representation, or help with any immigration-related matter, please call us toll free at  877-583-7080 and schedule a remote and confidential consultation with an experienced immigration attorney.

Cella & Associates continues to offer confidential remote consultations via Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, and telephone.


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