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SEVP Backs Away from Temporary Plan Helping F-1/M-1 Students during the Pandemic

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, SEVP instituted temporary measures allowing F-1 and M-1 students to take more classes online than normally permitted under the Regulations.

Generally, SEVP Regulations only permit 1 class online per semester with the remaining credit hours to be taken “in person” at the university. In a July 6, 2020 announcement, SEVP backed away from this temporary allowance. Under the new announcement, SEVP has stated the following:

  • F-1 and M-1 students CANNOT take ALL of their classes online AND be issued a visa to enter the United States even if the school does not re-open campus in the Fall Semester. Further, if a school initially opens for the Fall Semester but then is required to return to an online format due to COVID, the F-1 or M-1 student is not authorized to remain in the U.S., and must make plans to depart the U.S. and finish the semester online from outside the country.
  • F-1 and M-1 students can take 1 class or 3 credit hours online per “normal” student regulations.
  • Contrary to current regulation, however, if a school is committed to a “hybrid” model with some online and some “in-person” classes, the F-1 or M-1 student would be allowed to take more than one class online. According to the SEVP, these schools must certify “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”.

Unfortunately, this announcement does not provide clear and succinct guidance as to what qualifies as a “hybrid” model only indicating that “some” classes must take place “face-to-face”. Additionally, the guidance does not clarify how many classes an F-1 or M-1 student could potential take online under a “hybrid” model. The guidance indicates it is “more than 1” but “less than all”. So, in theory, if a student has 12 credit hours or 4 classes, this would seem to indicate that the F-1 or M-1 student could take 3 of the 4 classes online. But, without further clarification, this remains a theory. Hopefully SEVP will issue further clarification so schools caught in the middle of trying to plan their return during a major pandemic have guidelines within which to operate.

If you have questions about this announcement or its impact on your school or your school’s plan for the upcoming semester, please contact Russell Ford at russell@fordmurraylaw.com or set up a complimentary consultation today.