As colleges and universities develop plans for the fall semester, holding courses online is the predominant option that schools are taking. For international students, i.e., those who are not U.S. citizens, are not legal permanent residents, or not minor dependents of those here on work visas, this could have be (and was) a problem. These students are allowed to be in the U.S. as F-1 (international students of academic programs) and M-1 (international students of vocational programs) and only for that purpose. Buried in the regulations governing what it means to maintain their legal status in the U.S. are rules governing how many (or how few) online courses they could actually take.

While the government made accommodations at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, on July 6, 2020, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued unofficial guidance indicating that, for Fall 2020, if a student’s program was completely online, that student would not be allowed to remain in the U.S. This news reverberated throughout higher education and triggered the first of many legal challenges against the government. Notably, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology joined forces and filed a lawsuit the next week against the government arguing that their new policy was “arbitrary and capricious,” which is the standard by which a government agency could not act. Today, before oral arguments were even held, the judge announced that both sides had come to a settlement, i.e., that the government would rescind its ICE guidance and keep things as they were prior to the announcement of the guidance. This would mean for now that international students in F-1 and M-1 status can legally remain in the U.S. even with online courses.

Please note that the above has been provided for informational purposes only. Please contact your Clark Lau LLC attorney to see whether the above applies to you. Stay tuned!