ICE: Foreign Students Cannot Attend Online-Only School From the US This Fall

In light of some universities’ decision to hold classes primarily – or entirely – online this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Monday that international students cannot remain in the U.S. if they take a fully online course load.

While this rule was already in effect, there were hopes, especially for student-athletes, that the rules might be waived in light of the pandemic. Besides the impact on athletics, many international students face challenges like vastly-different time zones, poor living circumstances, and problems accessing the internet in their home countries.

The ruling issued by ICE this week actually gives students more flexibility for hybrid class models than are allowed under normal visa rules, though it is a rollback of more open rules that were in place for the spring and summer semesters of 2020.

According to ICE, students facing fully-online semesters must leave the country or transfer to a school with in-person classes.

“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. 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 including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

International students may have “hybrid” (mixture of in-person and online) semesters, but schools have to certify them to the U.S. Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). If a school begins the semester with classes on campus but has to switch to being entirely online, the same rules apply and schools have 10 days to alert the SEVP of the change.

Typically, students can only take one class or three credit hours online, but the new exemptions will allow students taking a hybrid schedule to extend beyond those limits.

The move comes as U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration push for the nation to reopen in spite of the pandemic. Trump tweeted Monday: “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!”

Harvard and Princeton announced Monday that they will only invite students back to campus in groups segmented throughout the academic year. At Harvard, up to 40% of the undergrad population will be allowed on campus at once, with all freshmen coming in the fall and all seniors on-campus in the spring. Regardless of where students are based, however, they will take classes entirely online. At Princeton, freshmen and juniors will be allowed on campus in the fall, while sophomores and seniors will be there in the spring.

Last week, USC announced that it would move undergraduate instruction primarily online for the fall, save labs, studios, research courses, and selected others requiring in-person meetings; UCLA is taking a similar approach. The California State system announced in May that most of its campuses will remain closed for the fall semester.

It’s not clear at this time exactly what the new ICE rules mean for international collegiate athletes training at and attending American universities. There are other visa options besides F-1 and M-1 specifically designed for athletes to train in the US, but those visas sometimes offer restrictions on competing in collegiate athletics.

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Silent Observer

This is absurd

Hank Monroe

It’s just politics. The left wants everything to stay shut down for an extended period of time because they believe it harms the economy and increases their chance to win the election. The current administration is simply stating that if you are attending online courses full-time, you can do that from anywhere in the world. It’s a gentle nudge from the right to try and force the issue given that Covid-19 cases are at an all time high in the US while the death rate continues to be lower than in April/May and hasn’t matched the rise in cases that started in the middle of June. For the record I think it’s a special circumstance and they should be allowed… Read more »


no, the left does not want that. At all, you want us to believe the “left” wants that

Hot Takes:

This is such a dumb comment. The “left” is just as pissed off about wearing a mask and things being shut down. This disease isn’t a joke it won’t go away by throwing a temper tantrum because you can’t get a haircut or go to the bars. The states that relaxed their restrictions saw an upsurge in cases and now REUBLICAN GOVERNORS are closing down states again. Are they also in it? This isn’t a liberal conspiracy if we were that united Trump would have never been in office. So please stop stating conjecture, to which there is no factual evidence whatsoever, as fact. It propagates false information and is down right disrespectful to the more than 100,000 people who… Read more »

Hank Monroe

Don’t recall mentioning anything about a bar, haircut, or a mask, but if you want to vent have at it. One can always look at how the different states have handled the shutdown, came out of it, and even how they went back a phase or two. That’s factual evidence and public record and it’s not hard to draw a correlation there.


@hot takes so interesting democratic governors have so much % of the death rate. I’m sitting at a bar right now and there is 100% social distancing. I’ve been to bars/restaurants in 4 states recently. All are social distancing fine. Riots and protests are not. It’s simple math bub.

The factual evidence is democratic vs republican deaths. Which you brought up the political aspect in your comment.

Why should we give free citizenship to people who are from another country and can do their work from home?


New York got hit hard because it is densely populated and it has a global economy, they get millions of people from every corner of the world.. their deaths have nothing to deal with republican vs democratic

Swim Mom

NY also got hit hard because Covid patients were sent back to nursing homes resulting in the spread of the virus to the most vulnerable population. Nursing home deaths were a huge factor in NY


you were sitting at a bar posting comments on swimswam? you sound really cool…


No, the “left” wanted a shut down, PPE, and widespread testing back in March. The virus hit NYC hard because it is an international city and it arrived there first. Doctors in NYC were battling a completely new virus with no knowledge of how it worked at all, very much like Italy. Survival rates are higher now because doctors have more knowledge and tools in their toolbox Funny how almost every developed country in the entire world that responded quickly and with strong leadership is now reopening safely. So much so that their borders are closed to Americans. We are where we are with the virus dragging out and hospitalizations spiking in red states because of the abject failure of… Read more »

Swim Mom

Oldswimmer, I believe the virus hit the west coast first, not NYC, and the virus is not just spiking in red states. Have you seen the numbers in California? You may want to broaden your news sources.

Irish Ringer

A guy goes on vacation and misses all the excitement. Below is a nice illustration of how the virus is trending. Death rate continues to trend lower, BUT we probably need to wait a few weeks to see how the recent increase in hospitalizations impacts those numbers. Other than the increase in hospitalizations this is all positive news.


This is fascism. Are we attempting to create the aryan race like Hitler? LET THEM STAY

That guy

They are not threatening a mass genocide of foreigners. Relax.

GA Boy

Most foreign students and student athletes are rich white people so that doesn’t exactly fit the narrative….


GA Boy – Before blatantly posting incorrect assumptions, why don’t you check your facts… a majority of foreign students come from China, India, and South Korea. (Source Statista).


When it comes to International student-athletes, most of them are in fact not rich, regardless of race. Very few foreign athletes have any shot of attending a US college without a full or close to full scholarship. A scholarship they lose when they’re denied entry into the US, making them lose housing, food, healthcare, etc, without even mentioning the opportunity to get a degree and play the sport they’re worked so hard for. Please get your facts straight


Grow up.

Hank Monroe

I don’t blame EISENHEIM on this one, he’s just a product of the left using the word fascism incorrectly to move an agenda.

Corn Pop

No . The Wehrmacht run over Belgium in hours . US has been in Afghanistan 18.8 years. Not happening .


Just want to point out that not all CSU’s will be closed this fall. CSU Maritime is still deciding on what fall semester will consist of.

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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