On July 6, 2020, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), announced that for the Fall 2020 semester, it would prohibit F-1 students from attending fully online schools or programs and taking a full online course load in the United States. Students attending fully online schools or programs may only do so from outside the U.S., but can remain Active in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
If a student is outside the U.S., he or she may not enter the U.S. on F-1 status if the student’s school or program is operating entirely online. This applies even if a student has already obtained a Form I-20 for the Fall 2020 semester.
A student may study in the U.S. if they transfer to a school that consists entirely of in-person classes or a hybrid model (combination of both in-person and online classes). However, the student must depart the U.S. or transfer again if the school changes to a fully online model at any point during the Fall 2020 semester. If students are not in compliance with the new guidance, deportation proceedings may be initiated against them.
By August 4, 2020, designated school officials (DSOs) must update and reissue ALL Form I-20s that have been issued for the Fall 2020 Semester to certify the school meets the requirements of the new guidance.
DHS will publish this rule shortly which could clarify some of the situations faced by students that are not addressed in ICE’s press release. In particular, the current guidance does not address the effect of the new guidance on students employed on Optional Practical Training (OPT). On July 8, Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit against DHS and ICE seeking a temporary restraining order of the new guidance, and on July 9, 99 members of Congress sent a letter to DHS and ICE urging the agencies to withdraw the new guidance.