Options for Foreign Students to the ICE’s New Must Leave the U.S. Policy

Released on 07/06/2020

Foreign students attending U.S. colleges that will operate entirely online in the fall 2020 semester can not remain in the country to do so, according to a new policy issued today by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the “ICE”) (see the ICE’s announcement here). The Department of Homeland Security plans to publish the procedures to implement the new ICE policy shortly.

The new policy applies to holders of F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant visas, which allow non-immigrant students in the United States to pursue academic and vocational coursework. According to the nonprofit Institute of International Education, more than 1 million of the United States’ higher education students come from overseas, who may be affected by this new policy.

Here is a summary of the ICE’s new policy:

  1. Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. The US Consulate will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Custom and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.


  1. Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulation. Eligible F-1 students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.


  1. 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 SEVP, through the Form I-20, certifying that the program 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 program. The above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.


  1. Schools should update their information in the 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.


  1. Nonimmigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes starting the fall 2020 semester. If foreign students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the United States or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.

Based on the new ICE policy, a foreign student may face the following consequences if he or she has not been enrolled in qualified programs in the United States:

  • If the foreign student is applying for visa at the US Consulate oversea, his or her visa application may be denied by the US Consulate due to the enrollment in unqualified program in the United States.


  • If the foreign student obtains F-1 or M-1 visa, he or she may be denied entry to the United States due to the enrollment in unqualified program in the United States.


  • If the foreign students are physically in the United States and are not enrolling in qualified program in the United States starting in fall 2020 semester, his or her SEVIS record may be terminated by the ICE and he or she may be placed in removal proceedings to be deported to his or her home country.

It is unfortunate that the ICE announced this new policy negatively affecting the foreign students in this pandemic. If you are a foreign student, you shall do the followings immediately:

  • Make sure to enroll a school offering sufficient in-person classes as detailed below:


  • Undergraduate students for academic programs must enroll in a full-time study with minimum 12 credit hours, including maximum 3 credit hours of online classes.
  • Graduate students for academic programs must enroll in a full-time study with minimum 9 credit hours, including maximum 3 credit hours of online classes.
  • SEVP’s certification approval allowing the school to adopt a hybrid models with more than one class or three credit hours online.
  • F-1 students in English Language Program or M-1 students must enroll in a full-time study with minimum 12 credit hours, without any permission in online courses for credits.


  • No matters whether you are a foreign student in the United States, a foreign student applying for visa at Consulates oversea, or a foreign students trying to get into the United States at the Port of Entry, you shall make sure that your meet the above full-time study requirements.


  • If you are not able to locate a school meeting the above requirements, please discuss with immigration attorneys to discuss your possible alternative steps to maintain your lawful status in the United States.


  • Voice to your local communities to file a lawsuit against the US government to enjoin the enforcement of this new ICE policy.

This article is for education purpose and does not constitute any attorney-client relationship with readers. Should you have any questions, please feel free to schedule a paid consultation ($100) with attorney Lucy Lu at https://go.oncehub.com/lucylulawpc or a free consultation with the law firm’s attorneys at https://www.lucylulaw.com/consultation/. You may also contact us at service@lucylulaw.com or 800-928-4615.

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