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July 2020

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

Last udpated July 8, 2020

On July 6, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications to the temporary exemptions put in place to allow for nonimmigrant students taking online classes through their universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Fall 2020 semester.

Changes to the temporary exemptions to online instruction for the Fall 2020 semester include:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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,” 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.

On July 8, 2020, Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to block implementation of these changes, arguing in their complaint that the guidance “leaves hundreds of thousands of international students with no education options in the United States” and would “undermine the education, safety, and future prospects of their international students and their campus community.” They have requested a temporary restraining order to block implementation of the rules.

CSG will continue to closely monitor U.S. immigration changes during the COVID-19 response and will provide updates as the situation evolves. Please contact immigration counsel at CSG if you have any further questions.

For additional information pertaining to the coronavirus outbreak, please visit CSG's COVID-19 Resource Center.


This publication contains general information on recent legal developments and is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. Attorney Advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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Visit CSG's COVID-19 Resource Center.