US F-1 & M-1 visa foreign students studying fully online hit by new guidance

US F-1 & M-1 visa foreign students studying fully online hit by new guidance

The US has announced changes to its student visa regime that will severely affect foreign students on an F-1 or M-1 visa studying entirely online in the country.

The ICE-run Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced modifications today to the temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes due to the Coronavirus pandemic for the fall 2020 semester.

With these changes, SEVP has banned nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visa students attending institutions that deliver education entirely online from remaining in the US.

With the changes announced today, F1 and M1 visa foreign students can no longer remain in the US while taking a full online course load.

The SEVP statement read: “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 statement added: “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 SEVP statement reiterated that “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.”

F-1 and M-1 US visa announcement criticised

In a strong statement, Dr Esther D Brimmer, Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, said: “Today’s guidance issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is harmful to international students and puts their health and well-being and that of the entire higher education community at risk.

“The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States remains unpredictable and institutions should be trusted and be given the authority to make decisions that are right for their campuses based on their local circumstances.

“With a global competition for talent, we must ensure that students feel safe and can attain the best education and experience possible here in the United States.

“Unfortunately, this administration continues to enact policies which only increase the barriers to studying here, and that’s a serious concern.

“At a time when new international student enrollment is in decline, our nation risks losing global talent with new policies that hurt us academically and economically.”

Echoing the sentiment expressed in the NAFSA statement, Ted Mitchell, President of American Council on Education (ACE), said: “On its face, the guidance released today by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is horrifying.

“While we would welcome more clarity about international students studying in the United States, this guidance raises more questions than it answers and unfortunately does more harm than good. Colleges and universities have announced and continue to announce multi-faceted, nuanced models for reopening campuses this fall.

“Some are proceeding with online learning only, others intend to be primarily in-person, and many others have a range of plans for hybrid models. Regrettably, this guidance provides confusion and complexity rather than certainty and clarity.”

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