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On July 6, 2020, Student and Exchange Visitor Program (“SEVP”) issued a Broadcast Message announcing modifications to the temporary procedural adaptations permitted by SEVP related to the online study policy for F and M nonimmigrant students during the height of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) crisis. According to SEVP “There will still be accommodations to provide flexibility to schools and nonimmigrant students, but as many institutions across the country reopen, there is a concordant need to resume the carefully balanced protections implemented by federal regulations.”

Due to COVID-19, SEVP previously instituted a temporary exemption regarding the online study policy for the 2020 spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted F and M nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally allowed for purposes of maintaining a full course of study to maintain their F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.

According to SEVP’s Broadcast Message, the temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester provide that:

  • 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 U.S. Active students currently in the U.S 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 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 nonimmigrant students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
  • Students attending schools which provide 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.

For all students attending schools in the U.S this fall 2020, designated school officials must issue new Forms I-20 to each student certifying that the school is not operating 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.

According to SEVP, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the procedures and responsibilities described in the Broadcast Message as a Temporary Final Rule in the Federal Register and further clarifies that the Broadcast Message is not a substitute for applicable legal requirements, nor is it itself a rule or a final action by SEVP. The Broadcast Message is intended to provide additional time to facilitate the implementation of the modified procedures. Moreover, SEVP will continue to develop and provide resources to stakeholders on ICE.gov, including answers to frequently asked questions, to clarify and expand upon information in the Broadcast Message.

Companies with ongoing or prospective immigration processes and their employees, colleagues or family members who may be affected by the modifications  to the temporary procedural adaptations related to the online study policy for F and M nonimmigrant students should consult with counsel on individual situations.

If you have any questions, please contact Gunster Immigration attorneys Sarah Tobocman, Mariana Ribeiro, Beatriz Osorio, and Maria Romero.

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This publication is for general information only. It is not legal advice, and legal counsel should be contacted before any action is taken that might be influenced by this publication.


About Gunster

Gunster, Florida’s law firm for business, provides full-service legal counsel to leading organizations and individuals from its 12 offices statewide. Established in 1925, the firm has expanded, diversified and evolved, but always with a singular focus: Florida and its clients’ stake in it. A magnet for business-savvy attorneys who embrace collaboration for the greatest advantage of clients, Gunster’s growth has not been at the expense of personalized service but because of it. The firm serves clients from its offices in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Palm Beach, Stuart, Tallahassee, Tampa, The Florida Keys, Vero Beach, and its headquarters in West Palm Beach. With nearly 200 attorneys and 200 committed support staff, Gunster is ranked among the National Law Journal’s list of the 500 largest law firms and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Diverse Law Firms by Law360. More information about its practice areas, offices and insider’s view newsletters is available at www.gunster.com.

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