F-1 Student Visa and Online Courses Update

Last Updated

August 25, 2020

As the pandemic started earlier this year, U.S. colleges and universities began to move all their academic courses to online classes. International students with F-1 visas were concerned whether taking a full course load of online classes would impact their immigration status.

On March 13, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued an exemption for students with F-1 status currently studying in the United States that permitted them to take a full course load of online classes. However, this past July, ICE attempted to remove this exemption.

The agency stated that if the school is operating normally, offering full in-person classes, then international students are bound by the normal regulations, which state that they are only permitted to take one class (or three credits) online. If the school is operating a hybrid model, with a combination of both online and in-person classes, students can remain in the United States and continue taking classes per the school’s requirements (and could take more than one class online.) If the F-1 student was attending a university that was offering solely online classes, then the student would be required to leave the United States and return home. In addition, any “new” students would not be issued a F-1 student visa to enter the United States unless he/she could show they were taking a majority of in-person classes.

The response and public outcry was immediate. After several federal cases were filed against the government, ICE quickly revoked this update. On July 14, ICE announced that, for the fall semester, F-1 students actively enrolled since March 9, 2020, could continue to take online courses and maintain valid F-1 Status in the United States. In addition, those who have been outside the United States since March 9, 2020 — taking online courses and are seeking to re-enter the country this fall — can re-enter the United States to take a full course load of in-person classes, online classes or a combination of in-person and online classes.

F-1 students should always consult with their international student advisors to make sure the courses they take meet the academic and educational requirements of the school. Any “new,” incoming F-1 student is not covered by this exemption. The student must show that he/she will be enrolled in a full course load of in-person courses this fall in order to be issued an F-1 visa to enter the United States.