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New COVID-19 Exchange Students Rules To Require Some In-Person Instruction

WASHINGTON (CBS SF) -- Officials with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) on Monday announced modifications to temporary exemptions that will require nonimmigrant students to take some in-person classes due to the pandemic for the fall 2020 semester.

The temporary exemptions issued  by the SEVP for the fall 2020 semester state that nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students taking classes entirely online at schools attending may not remain in the United States. Those students enrolled in entirely online schools and/or programs will not receive student visas from the U.S. Department of State.

Additionally, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not permit these students to enter the United States. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in the above described online programs will be required to leave the U.S. or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.

Students who do not take such measures may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.

The new instructions also stipulate that nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F-1 students will be allowed to enroll in a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.

Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools that have adopted a hybrid model online and in-person classes due to the pandemic will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.

Schools operating with such a hybrid program will be required to certify to SEVP 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.

These exemptions will 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 are being required to 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 had 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.

According to the announcement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will be publishing the procedures and responsibilities in the Federal Register as a Temporary Final Rule.

Additional information for students and schools on the new fall 2020 semester guidance can be found on the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement website.

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