Client Alerts

Trump Administration Ends Exemption For Foreign Students Taking Full-Time Online Course Load In U.S. During COVID-19 Pandemic

By: David W. Leopold and Allison S. Hall

About: Immigration

July 7, 2020 – The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued a broadcast message on July 6, 2020, announcing an imminent new Temporary Final Rule regarding online coursework permitted for students in F and M nonimmigrant status. SEVP is part of the National Security Investigations Division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Rule modifies previous COVID-19 related exemptions in place in the spring and summer semesters permitting students to take more online courses than normally allowed for purposes of full course study to maintain F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant status.

For the fall 2020 semester, SEVP outlines the following three exemptions:

1) Students attending schools entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the U.S. Those students who are outside of the country will not be issued visas nor permitted to enter the U.S. Those who are in the U.S. and enrolled in such programs must depart the U.S. or take other measures, such as transfer to another school with in-person instruction. Students not in compliance may face immigration consequences, including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.

2) Students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes must follow existing regulation, including that F students may only take one class/three credits online.

3) Students attending a school operating with a hybrid model (mixture of online and in-person) are permitted to take more than one course online if the school certifies on Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, that the program includes an in-person component; the student is not taking an entirely online course load; and the student is taking sufficient courses to make normal progress in their degree.

Attendant to the new exemptions, SEVP has outlined steps that must be taken by schools where students are attending courses in the fall. These schools must issue new Forms I-20 to each student certifying that the school is not operating entirely online and include the details regarding the student’s enrollment as outlined above. If the school changes to another model mid-semester resulting in online-only coursework, nonimmigrant students must depart or find another way to maintain status.

Finally, SEVP has outlined very specific school reporting and procedural requirements:

1) Schools that offer online-only courses or that will not reopen in fall 2020 must report this operational change to SEVP via email to using the subject line “Fall 2020 (Fully Online/Will Not Reopen)” by July 15, 2020.

2) Schools that will operate a hybrid model or that have delayed or shortened sessions or in-person courses, must report operational plans to SEVP via email to using the subject line “Fall 2020 (in person/hybrid/modified session)” by August 1, 2020.

Ulmer’s Immigration Law Group is closely monitoring these developments and is prepared to support you and your organization with your business needs. Please reach out to our immigration attorneys if you have any questions.

The information provided in this client alert speaks only to the information and guidance we have available as of the date of publication and is subject to change. We will continue to follow further issued guidance and regulations and endeavor to post those updates via our website. Please continue to follow these updates at This legal update was created by Ulmer & Berne LLP, and is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. Receipt of this client alert, by itself, does not create an attorney client relationship. For any questions, or for further information, please contact David W. Leopold at