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US announces end to “COVID-19 flexibilities” for online or hybrid study

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The US has announced the immediate end of COVID-related policies that permitted foreign student to pursue their studies via distance learning
  • The rule change means that both commencing and continuing students must now return to in-person instruction this year

On 12 May 2023, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the end of temporary rules that have allowed foreign students enrolled with US institutions to pursue their studies online.

Those rules were put in place during the pandemic as a means of allowing students to continue their studies even if they were unable or unwilling to travel to the US, and during a period where in-period instruction was widely suspended for at least part of the COVID emergency.

The new guidance from Homeland Security is in effect as of 11 May 2023. It provides that currently enrolled students may maintain their status in the US while studying remotely during the 2022/23 academic year and for any courses taken during the 2023 summer semester.

Any students continuing after summer 2023, however, as well as any new students applying for entry to the US from 11 May forward, will be subject to the normal limits in place on distance learning for purposes of qualifying for a US study visa.

The rule in question is 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and it states:

“For F-1 students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter may be counted toward the full course of study requirement if the class is taken on-line or through distance education and does not require the student’s physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class.”

The net effect of this change is that new foreign students applying for a F-1 visa for the US must plan to return to in-person study, and the same will be true for continuing students as of September 2023.

The statement from DHS reminds us that the COVID-era policies were, “always intended as a temporary measure to allow students to continue their studies with the least disruptions as possible and did not signify or result in a permanent change to the regulations.” It advises as well that going forward, designated school officials at US institutions should not now “issue Forms I-20, ‘Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,’ for students in new or Initial status who are outside of the United States and plan to take classes at an educational institution certified by SEVP for a programme of study that contains online components in excess of the regulatory limits.”

For additional background, please see:

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