International students attending schools operating entirely online for the fall semester cannot take a full online course load and remain in the United States, according to an announcement Monday from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The announcement comes after the Student and Exchange Visitor Program instituted a temporary exemption regarding online study policy for the spring and summer semesters due to COVID-19. The policy permitted F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally allowed to maintain a full course load to keep their student visa status.
Active students currently in the U.S. enrolled in online-only programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction, to remain in lawful status.
Students may face deportation if an alternative solution cannot be met.
The UT System has plans in place for a mix of online, in-person and hybrid instruction for the fall semester, which would potentially allow UTA’s international student population to choose courses that keep them in lawful status.
According to the announcement, schools using the hybrid model must certify to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program through Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that the programs are not entirely online and that a student is not taking an entirely online course load in the fall by Aug. 4. Any certified school that reopens in the fall and will not operate fully online will need to update its operation plans by Aug. 1 to state the educational format it intends to use.
The Office of International Education will issue updated I-20 forms to each student via their student email, according to an email sent out to international students Wednesday.
Interim president Teik Lim stated in a separate Wednesday email that international students are being contacted directly with more information.
There will be scheduled listening sessions for international students early next week via Microsoft Teams to receive further information and ask questions, Lim said. Additional information will be released to students once the event is set.
The International Student and Scholar Services will develop a form for academic advisers to make sure students meet all federal requirements for students needing to take more than one online course to maintain academic progress.
Schools that change their operation stance midsemester — resulting in nonimmigrant students located in the U.S. switching to online-only classes — will be reminded that these students are not permitted to do so and will have to find an alternative solution.
UTA is prepared to close all in-person activities and instruction if necessary to accommodate for COVID-19. If this change were to occur, the university would work with students to develop solutions to maintain academic progress for their degrees, said Jeff Carlton, executive director of communications and media relations.
“We encourage you to enroll in [a] mix of hybrid and online courses as much as possible,” Jay Horn, Office of International Education executive director, stated in the email Wednesday. “This will ease your transition and help you maintain your immigration status in the case the campus has to return to primarily online instruction later in the semester.”
UTA will transition all classes online after Thanksgiving break. Carlton said this does not change the fall course modality and is not expected to impact students under these recently announced provisions.
Students attending schools operating a hybrid model will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online.
International students residing outside of the U.S. who are not returning to campus in the fall are encouraged to take online courses and need to complete the Online Enrollment Agreement. A list of available courses can be found here.
However, these students cannot maintain their F-1 status.
“When students are ready to return to the U.S., we will provide further guidance on the process for reactivating [Student and Exchange Visitor Information System] records and reissuing new I-20s,” Horn stated.
Students attending schools operating under normal classes are bound by existing federal regulations and can only take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.
UTA international students can reach out to the Office of International Education for assistance at email@example.com or (817) 272-2355.