Impact of ICE/SEVP Fall 2020 Announcement of New Regulations For Current Students In F-1 Status

July 11, 2020

July 14, 2020 Update: The government rescinded this SEVP July 6th policy directive for fall 2020 discussed below, effectively reverting back to March 2020 COVID-19 emergency guidance.

There is no one-size-fits-all response to the effect the new regulations will have on Columbia students. Some of the variables are:

  • whether you’re in the U.S. or abroad
  • where you are in your academic program
  • further clarification from SEVP
  • whether you need a visa and if the consulates are open
  • whether it is possible to travel to NY based on COVID travel restrictions
  • whether your academic program is fully online for the fall (see # 1 below), in-person classes (see #2) or a “hybrid” model (see #3)

Below are the 3 SEVP scenarios for fall 2020 for students taking classes toward their degree.

Please note: Current students who have completed required coursework and have a dissertation (PhD) or research/thesis (MA) requirement remaining, can maintain fulltime registration status although no longer registering for classes. Under current guidance, as continuing students, you may remain in the U.S. or continue dissertation/thesis work abroad.

3 SEVP Scenarios for Fall 2020


“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. 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 or potentially face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the  initiation of removal proceedings.”


If your academic program will be delivered fully online in Fall 2020, you are not eligible for an F-1 visa and are not allowed to travel to or remain in the US. For the fall 2020 semester, you may continue your studies outside of the US and maintain an Active status in SEVIS if you are registered full-time.

  • There is no mention in the SEVP announcement of how online studies abroad will impact OPT but USCIS has not previously permitted applying for OPT from abroad. We are waiting for guidance on whether students who studied entirely online in the fall would be able to return to the US at the end of the term in order to apply for OPT.


“Students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online [see 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G)]”


“In-person only" means a return to the traditional construct for international students studying in the U.S. before the COVID-19 emergency. A full-time courseload, most often defined as  a minimum of 12 credits, is required and a student is limited to “a maximum of one class or three credits online” that can be applied toward meeting their fulltime status as defined by the registrar. For programs that will use the A/B model per semester, full-time is defined as 6 credits for each term.


“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, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load for the fall 2020 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, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses [see 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v)].”


If your program is planning to offer a hybrid model with both in-person and on-line academic components, students may continue their studies in the United States. All students will learn more about the structure of your hybrid program from your dean/school/department.