This is another effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools have found it necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. At least for the upcoming fall semester, many colleges are saying goodbye to in-person classes and shifting to virtual classrooms. This seems like a convenient way to keep students on track for graduation and avoid the temporary shut down of classes, but the new setting does not seem to be favored by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
On July 6, 2020, ICE announced that those students holding F1 and M1 visas and who are scheduled to only take online classes would not be able to keep their status. These students are welcomed to take online classes for the upcoming fall 2020 semester, but they will not be granted a visa to the United States nor allowed into the country for these purposes. In addition, according to the new directive, those F1 and M1 students presently in the United States should leave if their classes are going to be fully online.
What should students do? Each case is different, but at least some students may be able to find alternatives that would allow them to remain in the United States. Here are a few:
- You may register for in-person classes – Requirements vary between colleges, but you may be able to register for in-person classes at your school or another institution. If your program accepts it, you could remain here under the F1 or M1 visa.
- Transfer colleges to attend in-person classes – This could also be an option. Be sure to check with your advisor and potential new college to make sure your credits are transferable.
- Consider changing your status – Some students may be able to request a change of status if they qualify for some form of immigration relief. For instance, those who with a credible fear to return to their home countries or who have a relative able to petition for them and can apply for their status within the United States may be able to take online classes while they wait for their immigration case to be adjudicated.