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International Students Must Take In-Person Classes Starting This Fall or Immediately Depart the US..

International Students Must Take In-Person Classes Starting This Fall or Immediately Depart the US Under New ICE Order

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in many parts of the United States, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced that international students studying in the United States pursuant to an F-1 Student Visa must take most of their classes in person or depart the country.

Jennifer Grady and Anthony Mance speaking to international students at the University of California, Irvine, about post-grad visa options
Jennifer Grady and Anthony Mance speaking to international students at the University of California, Irvine, about post-grad visa options

In a sudden reversal to previous policy which permitted international students to participate in virtual classes as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, ICE’s new guidance will force international students to take most, if not all classes in-person. If an international student is facing a situation in which his or her school is not offering in-person classes, ICE suggests changing to a school that does permit in-person classes. If the student is unable to take in-person classes, they must depart the United States immediately. The specific guidelines that have been published by ICE are:

  • 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 of 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.

  • 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.

ICE has given universities until July 15, 2020 to certify whether they will be fully open, will offer a hybrid model, or will be instituting on-line only classes. This has left many universities such as Harvard and USC scrambling as they had prepared to take fall classes fully online to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Under the new guidelines, many of these universities may need to change their policies and re-institute in-person classes because they depend on the funds from international student tuition. Once a university informs ICE that it will be instituting an on-line only model, international students attending the university will need to immediately transfer to a new institution, or depart the country or risk serious immigration consequences.

For international students, the new guidelines mean making a difficult decision; either remain in the United States and take in-person classes, risking infection, or departing the United States. For many international students, taking online classes abroad will be extremely challenging or impossible due to time differences, lack of research facilities, and lack of internet services.

The new ICE order comes on the heels of the Trump Administration’s recent executive order halting the issuance of new employment visas in H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 classifications as well as immigrant visas until the end of the 2020 calendar year. As with the previous executive order, these new guidelines will likely further the Administration’s goal of reducing immigration to the United States.

What Next?

If you are an F-1 student who will be impacted by the new ICE guidelines, the immigration attorneys at the The Grady Firm are here to help you wade through the plethora of changing immigration laws. We can guide you through transferring to new academic program, what to do if you are unable to leave the country due to travel restrictions, and assist with changing status to a new immigration classification.  

To discuss your situation, hear our potential recommendations, and review the pros and cons of each, book a 30-minute Discovery Session online, or call (949) 798-6298. About The Grady Firm, P.C.

The Grady Firm works with dynamic employers and employees across the country to prepare successful employment-based visa and Green Card applications. In addition, we help individuals, families, employees, business owners, and investors obtain non-immigrant and immigrant visas (B-1/B2, H-1B, H-2B, L-1A, L-1B, O-1, TN, E-2, E-3), as well and Green Cards and citizenship based on family relationships, investment, or employment.

Fill out a Contact Request Form to learn how we may be able to assist you with your immigration questions.

This article is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. This article does not make any guarantees as to the outcome of a particular matter, as each matter has its own set of circumstances and must be evaluated individually by a licensed attorney.


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