By Roujin Mozaffarimehr
On July 24, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued an update on federal guidance for F and M students for the Fall 2020 term. The agency has clarified that the March 2020 guidance on online class attendance does not extend to nonimmigrant students in new or initial status outside of the U.S. seeking to enter the U.S. for a fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100% online. In other words, students enrolled in 100% online courses in the fall term must already be in the United States to be afforded the March 2020 attendance exemption.
In March 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced adjustments to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), instituting temporary exemptions to the regulations governing attendance requirements for international students. The exemptions allowed for F-1 and M-1 students to take more online courses than normally permitted without violating their student status. As more schools adjust keep their students and faculty safe during the pandemic, many have shifted to a primarily online format.
On July 6th, 2020 ICE announced that it would not be continuing with this modified policy, and that international students must be enrolled in a certain number of in-person courses to continue maintaining status as an international student in the U.S. This resulted in lawsuits against the government across the country filed by schools and state governments. The pressure resulted in the rescission of this announcement on July 14, 2020. The government agreed to put back into place the COVID-19 exemptions from March to allow for flexibility for foreign students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The July 14th rescission and re-institution of the March 2020 exemption has now been clarified to only apply to F and M students that are already physically present in the U.S. F and M students seeking entry in a new or initial status after March 9th will not be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online.
If you are an international student who is facing issues with entry into the US because of the number of online courses in which you are enrolled, please contact our office for assistance.
 Broadcast Message, July 24, 2020: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/bcmFall2020guidance.pdf
 Broadcast Message, March 9, 2020: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/bcm2003-01.pdf