On July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced the exemptions it had previously provided for nonimmigrant students in response to COVID-19 would end for the upcoming fall semester. These exemptions had allowed students on F and M visas to take more online courses than generally permitted during the spring and summer semester, when most colleges and universities switched to remote learning in response to COVID-19. As the fall semester approaches, many of these schools are still planning to operate remotely in the interest of public health and safety. Due to SEVP’s recent announcement, if you are a student in F or M nonimmigrant status, you should consider the following scenarios to ensure you are enrolled in a program that complies with the new restrictions before that time.
2. If your school adopts a hybrid model, you must obtain a new I-20 certifying the program complies with the new requirements by August 4, 2020. 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, with proper certification to SEVP. This does 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.
Foreign students pay over $9 billion to universities in the U.S. each year, and U.S. universities are dependent on their tuition. As a result, despite the recommendations of health experts, U.S. universities have already begun responding to the new directive by adjusting their plans of only offering distance learning and will be offering some in-person courses to ensure that their F-1 students are complying with the law and can maintain their status.
Furthermore, on July 8, 2020, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), two universities with large F-1 student populations, filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of SEVP’s July 6 directive, and other universities are planning to follow and also file lawsuits. A decision on these lawsuits may take several weeks, so F-1 students should still be prepared to comply with these requirements ahead of the fall semester in the event that the courts do not block them. If their university is not willing or able to comply by offering some in-person courses, the student may consider transferring to a different school which offers in-person courses.
If you have questions about how the new restrictions might affect you, please contact one of our attorneys at Minsky, McCormick and Hallagan, P.C.