ICE to bar new, initial students at fully online universities this fall

5 Aug 20

UNITED STATES

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued clarifying questions for fall 2020 students, announcing that new and initial students on F and M visas will not be permitted to enter the United States if they attend universities that only offer online courses this fall.

The new policy will not affect the ability of previously enrolled F and M students who have maintained their status to attend universities with fully online coursework. ICE also indicated that F or M students who attend schools with a mix of in-person and online classes should also not be impacted. Additionally, recent graduates in an active SEVIS status will be able to continue to work during their 12-month optional practical training (OPT) period or a STEM OPT extension, if applicable.

Key points:

  • ICE announced on July 24 that nonimmigrant F and M students who obtained their status after March 9 will not be able to enter the United States for the fall term if their coursework is 100% online.
  • ICE has also said that school officials should not issue a Form I-20 to new and initial nonimmigrant students if their coursework is 100% online.
  • F and M students who were enrolled in school on March 9 and who have maintained their status since then may obtain visas, continue their studies and enter the United States whether or not their coursework is 100% online.
  • New and initial students will be permitted to enter the United States and begin their studies if they are at a school that offers classes in person or has a mix of in-person and online coursework.
  • While the changes will impact the ability of new students in online-only instruction programs to obtain practical training authorization (OPT or CPT) for 2021 summer internships, it does not impact the ability of students already in their programs and present in the U.S. to apply for these benefits.

Background: The July 24 announcement followed legal wrangling over ICE’s move earlier last month to bar all F and M students from taking a full online course load this fall. After a number of universities sued over the July policy, ICE backed down and the agency agreed to extend temporary COVID-19 measures implemented in March. These measures allow foreign students to take more online courses than normally permitted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

BAL Analysis: The change will limit the ability of some new and initial students on F and M visas to come to the United States and enroll in their universities this fall, especially given that a number of schools have announced plans to hold fall semester classes mostly or entirely online. The policy will not affect previously enrolled students who have maintained their status or the ability of previously enrolled students to obtain practical training authorization. A number of questions remain unanswered, including whether the State Department will issue visas to new students who have already been issued a valid Form I-20. BAL continues to monitor the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and will provide updates on key developments as information becomes available.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact berryapplemanleiden@balglobal.com.

Copyright © 2020 Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. All rights reserved. Reprinting or digital redistribution to the public is permitted only with the express written permission of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. For inquiries please contact copyright@balglobal.com.