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US Immigration modifies temporary exemptions for foreign students’ visas

…says students on only-online studies not allowed into US

Nigerians and other international students on nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visas cannot remain in the United State of America (USA) or legally allowed to enter the US, if their studies are entirely online, says a new modified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) statement released on Monday.

This modified condition is coming at the time schools and universities across the United State of America are considering how to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As a result, ICE recommends that international students whose schools are online-only should transfer to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.

According to the statement obtained from the US Immigration and Customs Empowerment website, schools offering a hybrid of in-person and online learning will be permitted to take some online courses and remain in the country, though the school must certify that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester.

ICE further stated that the rule will also apply to students, whose course loads change mid-semester, noting that students who change course selections or are required to switch to online-only learning must notify the agency within 10 days.

“Students who remain in the U.S. while taking only online courses may face ‘immigration consequences’ including ‘the initiation of removal proceedings,’ ICE said.

For students using nonimmigrant F-1, ICE stated that students attending schools that are operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations while eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.

ICE stated that 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 Student Exchange and Visitor Programme (SEVP), through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” certifying that the programme 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 programme,” says ICE.

Continuing, it said that the above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programmes or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.

ICE however requested schools to update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change if they begin the fall semester with in-person classes but are later required to switch to only online classes, or a nonimmigrant student changes their course selections, and as a result, ends up taking an entirely online course load.

“Nonimmigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes. If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave,” ICE stated.

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