US New Visa Rule: F-1 and M-1 Visa holders taking online courses no longer exempt

July 8, 2020 5:02 PM

The impact on international students is significant and might result in them turning heavily towards other countries in the very near future.

Transfers might also come with a transfer fee.Transfers might also come with a transfer fee.

By Nandika Handa

Most international students breathed a sigh of relief after the F-1 and M-1 visas did not seem to be affected by the ban announced on visa categories such as H-1B and J-1 in June. Many families are still reeling from shock at the H-1B ban but now many more have been affected as it has been announced that the temporary exemptions in light of the pandemic for F-1 and M-1 visa holders will no longer preside.

Given the circumstances this move has been regarded as unprecedented, and will affect those students who have enrolled in the U.S universities and are taking online courses as has been the new normal due to the pandemic.

A statement was released by U.S Immigration and Customs Law Enforcement (I.C.E) that puts into place modification to the earlier exemptions for students taking online courses in the fall 2020 semester.

Most international students want to know what the consequences of this are “What exactly does this mean for a student like me who has no choice but to take online classes at this time due to the Pandemic ?”, asks a young student at The University Of Southern California , as he seems almost too shocked to process this information.

The consequences of this are that the students who are currently on F-1 and M-1 and are taking online classes and not on site classes have been asked to return. They will not be allowed to stay in the U.S.A and pursue this “online”model of education .If they continue to do so this would endanger their legal status – So, they are in position where they must return.

The alternative to this would be to transfer to another university that is offering on site courses to keep their legal status. This sounds like an easy and simple enough solution but involves decisions that students have made after years of research and delving and careful consideration to their personal circumstances.

Students arrive at a particular college after researching and considering where their best interest lie. These include – which university has the best suited faculty, which state they wish to be in and very importantly what they can afford.

Some students are in a position where are they able to attend solely due to grants and funds that they have been awarded. Transfers might also come with a transfer fee and mean a higher college fee for some. This is a life decision for most and simply cannot be made at the spur of the moment.

Another option for students could be that if a school is offering a hybrid programme (partly online and partly on site) they could pursue that. In these cases they must get a fresh I-20 issued and the school must certify to SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Programme) “the programme the student is enrolled isn’t entirely an online one.” In addition, they must certify that the student himself is not taking an entirely online course load this semester. They must also provide information to the effect that the student is taking the minimum amount of online classes that are needed to make normal progress in his or her programme of choice.

There might be schools in a position where the fall semester will begin with on-site classes and then they find that they have to switch their mode of education to online they might also find that students on F-1visas, as a result of this, have to take an entirely online course load – In such cases they have to update these changes on their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System within 10 days. In such instances too, students will have to exit the U.S.A as they won’t be allowed to take their course load entirely online.

Those students on F-1 enrolled in English language training programmes and those on M-1 enrolled in vocational degrees will not be allowed to pursue and online courses at all.

This modification has clearly shaken the entire international student community who were somewhatrelieved as it was earlier stated that the U.S wouldkeep the best interests of the students in mind and would try to mitigate the impact of restrictions.

However, this has left every one with ties to the U.S wondering again – Will this be the last blow delivered by the pandemic and the presiding government to those wishing to settle or study in U.S.A? Very importantly, will the government be willing to shake the foundation of an industry that raises an excess of 44 billion U.S.D and, if so, what could be the reason for this at a time when they are trying to resuscitate an already impaired economy.

Whether the answers to these questions stem from politics, approaching elections, or measures to ease the burden on the U.S health care system, in the face of the pandemic – the impact on international students is significant and might result in them turning heavily towards other countries in the very near future.

(The author is an Independent Immigration Consultant. Views expressed are personal.)

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