Allow nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools online to remain in the US

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Today, Monday July 6th 2020, ICE released a statement informing international students that they must leave the country or transfer if their school is online this fall due to COVID-19. Many students do not have the option to simply transfer schools and would have no option but to leave the country that they currently call home. These students have lives here. This is a ridiculous, short-sighted, xenophobic decision. Classes being online does not create a valid reason to remove international students legally here from the US. 

According to this rule, international students taking online classes could "attend" classes from their home country. It is not that simple, though. What if their home country is in a different time zone and classes need to be attended in the middle of the night? What if they are returning to a country without good internet connection? What if online resources required by university professors are not available in their home country? What if current COVID-19 restrictions restrict students from returning to their home countries? Will students be permitted to return to the U.S. after classes return to face-to-face or will more restrictions be imposed keeping them out of the country? What if schools begin face-to-face and must switch to online mid-semester due to rises in COVID-19 numbers? 

There are also financial burden that this creates for international students and their schools. Who will pay for their flight to their home country? Who will pay for the lease that they signed months ago? What will happen to schools that have high numbers of international students who may now be forced to transfer to other schools. 

This cannot happen. This rule needs to be changed to allow international students to remain at their school in the US. 

PRESS RELEASE:

07/06/2020

SEVP modifies temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online courses during fall 2020 semester
 
WASHINGTON – The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications Monday to temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule.

Temporary exemptions 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,” 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 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.

Due to COVID-19, SEVP instituted a temporary exemption regarding online courses for the spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted by federal regulation to maintain their nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.

F-1 nonimmigrant students pursue academic coursework and M-1 nonimmigrant students pursue vocational coursework while studying in the United States.