ICE Allows Foreign Students To Opt For Online Classes

Updated on March 6, 2024

At a Glance

  • In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has announced that international students on J1, M, or F1 visas will be allowed to study online for the 2021-2022 academic year.
  • This decision aims to prioritize the safety of students and prevent the spread of the virus.
  • It also serves as a gesture of appreciation for the courage of international students who chose to pursue education in the United States despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
  • Incoming students will need to check with their academic institutions for specific guidelines and may receive a Form I-20 for nonimmigrant student status.

Recently, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program made an announcement regarding international students who have an M, F1, or J1 visa. Apparently, these students will be allowed to take online classes while the pandemic is still going and the U.S. is fighting to make things better. However, why is ICE suddenly deciding to do this after all this time? Read all about it here and find out.

Why Is ICE Allowing Foreign Students to Opt for Online Learning?

COVID-19 is still making victims in the United States, and people are working hard to protect themselves and make sure they stay safe, thus helping others stay safe as well. Therefore, many restrictions are still in place, and it makes it hard for some people to live this lifestyle after being used to doing things differently. As a result, students were used to going to classes in person, but many had to switch to online classes when the pandemic began, which is something that remained available over the rest of the pandemic.

Well, an announcement was made lately that also made international students happy. According to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), international students on J1, M or F1 student visas will be able to study online for the 2021-2022 academic year. Therefore, they will be able to have distance learning as well, at least until the dangers of the pandemic go away.

This new announcement comes as a continuation of the March 2020 guidance, and it is something that applies to every non-immigrant foreign student that is going to start studying at a U.S. educational institution the following year. It will stay available for the whole academic year as well.

SEVP decided to do this not only in order to make sure people stay safe and to prevent the virus from spreading, but also as a gift for the bravery the students have. There are many uncertainties that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused and is still causing. If students applied for U.S. colleges and universities despite these challenges, this decision serves as a way to welcome the foreign students who did not run away from U.S. college and university admission.

Last year, non-immigrant foreign students had no choice but to leave their houses and go back to their home countries as soon as the lockdown began. This was what they were asked to do. Luckily, they can now continue their studies online and work towards their dream through U.S. education.

This is amazing as there are a lot of international students who would love to continue their studies despite the challenges of the pandemic. There are also many Indian students in the U.S. – they are actually the second-largest international student community in the U.S. 18% of the international students in the States are Indian.

What Does This Mean for Incoming Students?

Whether incoming students will be able to come into the U.S. for their studies or not depends on the academic institution they will be admitted to. In some cases, universities or schools offer hybrid programs, which means that the students will be able to go to physical classes as well. This will also be the case with foreign students. They will receive a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.

However, it is important to mention the fact that new or Initial M and F students will be unable to go to the U.S. as non-immigrant students for the 2021-2022 academic year if they were not enrolled in a study program by March 9, 2020.

Also, if their coursework happens fully online, they will not be able to go to the U.S. This means that the foreign students studying in these schools will not have a Form I-20 issued by the DSOs for them.

Not to mention that the decision taken by SEVP also comes after new restrictions have been put in place, preventing people from traveling out of India. The new wave of infections in India is forcing these new restrictions, which is why they cannot travel anymore. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi made an announcement not long ago in which they spoke about suspending the majority of their services. Visa processing is one of these services.

The visa processing suspension also applies to most consulates present in India. Therefore, new students being admitted for courses that will take place online will not have to apply for a visa, nor will they be given any visa. If the operations are fully online, the universities with these classes were asked to not give any Form I-20 for the academic year 2021-22.

What Does This Mean for Returning Students?

If you are an international, non-immigrant student who was already enrolled in a U.S. program on March 9, 2020, you will be able to keep going with your coursework. So, you will have the option to count your online classes towards the credit you require.

On top of that, you will have the opportunity to re-enter the U.S. This is also available if your school only does online learning at the moment, so you don’t have to worry if you’re in this scenario.

Sadly, there are still pandemic restrictions for certain countries, so students coming from these countries might face some issues. India and China are the countries with the highest number of students enrolling in U.S. schools and universities. China still has some restrictions when it comes to entering the U.S. Meanwhile, India’s new wave of infections caused the closure of multiple consulates, while F1 visa processing is experiencing huge delays.

Other Considerations for F1 Students

If you’re an F1 student, there are some other things you may have to take into account.

  • You should get in contact with your college’s DSO and make sure you find out the school’s stand when it comes to hybrid or online classes.
  • After you are admitted to the U.S. college and you will qualify to study in a school with a hybrid program, you should make sure you get your F1 or M student visa as soon as possible.
  • If a college has submitted procedural changes for hybrid and online classes already, they will not post new plans again for the next academic year. So, if you want to find out what the plans are for the 2021-2022 academic year, you will have to contact the school yourself.
  • There will be a mandatory Form I-20 issued by the DSO only as long as they are giving all or some in-person classes.

Read More


A lot of new foreign students will have the opportunity to study online. So, they don’t have to be physically in the U.S. in order to pursue their dreams. SEVP made the announcement that students under an F1, M, or J1 visa will be able to engage in distance learning for the academic year to come. This not only gives them a lot of opportunities but also helps deal with the restrictions of the pandemic in multiple countries. If you’re a new international student, this is good news for you, and you should get ready to study in your dream university.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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