International students will not be allowed to stay in the US if their university switches to all-online classes to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday.

The recent changes in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) affect current holders of Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visas – also referred to as US students visas – as well as incoming international students.

“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 U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States,” the announcement reads.

Students who are already in the US have two options if their university announces all-online classes: they can depart the country or switch to another school which is offering in-person classes.

If the students do not comply with the aforementioned measures, “they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” said ICE.

Normally, there is a limit on how many classes international students in the US can hold online. This limit was lifted during the spring and summer semesters amid the COVID-19 lockdown but will resume again in the Fall.

Many American universities have announced a so-called “hybrid model”, consisting of both online and in-person classes. If a student is enrolled in a hybrid model program, then they can stay in the US if they take more than one class or three credit hours online, according to the announcement.

Universities will have to prove to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) that the students are indeed only taking the permitted classes online – not all of them.

Students who are in the US on an English language training program or pursuing a vocational degree cannot take any classes online at all.

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