What is going on

On Monday July 6th, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that SEVP is modifying temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online courses during the fall 2020 semester:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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,” certifying 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 pursuing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.

In Other Words

Nonimmigrant students attending school in the United States with F-1 and M-1 visas may not remain in the U.S. if they will be learning fully remotely for the fall 2020 semester. Students who are currently outside of the U.S. will not be permitted to enter the country nor will they be issued a visa.

All international students who fall under these new restrictions must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school that will have in-person instructions allowing the students to stay legally. However, if actions are not taken, nonimmigrant students will be faced with immigration consequences such as initiation of removal proceedings.

Why it Matters

International students will all be affected drastically by this new policy. A study done by the Migration Policy Institute in 2018 estimated that 1.2 million students are registered in an estimate of 9000 schools under the F-1 and M-1 visas.

Additionally, the number of COVID-19 cases surpassed 3 million in the U.S. and is increasing by 60,000+ each day as of the second week of July. Due to the current health crisis, in-person classes will not only result in a possible second wave of COVID-19 but also put the students’ health at risk.

Schools that originally were not planning on virtual classes most likely will embed online classes into their curriculum. International students will then have to confront difficulties when taking virtual classes in their own country, such as taking their classes at midnight to fit the time zone of the U.S.

Furthermore, Asian students will be affected the most because the top three originating countries for international students are China, India, and South Korea. Having international students leave the U.S. will create additional hardships for them on top of adapting to online learning. Education should be welcomed to any student no matter where they are from and a student’s health and well being should also be the top priority for everyone.

States/Universities that are helping:

On Thursday, July 9th, the State attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra, announced that California will be the first state to file a lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s new policy for International students.

Numerous universities have also filed lawsuits against the issue and/or are speaking out publicly to support their international students. Harvard and MIT, two universities that account for an estimate of 4000-5000 international students each, sued the Trump Administration on July 8th after announcing that most courses will be brought online in response to COVID-19 for the fall semester. Other universities that are taking action include the University of California, Northwestern University, Columbia University, New York University, Stanford University, University of Southern California, and Cornell University.

How to Help

  • Petition : Make ICE allow International students to stay in the US
  • Make the change by contacting your state representatives and senators through their phone and/or email and demand that they stand against ICE’s new policy and publicly speak out about the issue, remaining firmly in opposition to the policy.
  • If you are an international student, contact your school to see if there are any possible in-person classes that you can take.

“Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society” - Sonia Sotomayor