On July 6, 2020, the Student Exchange Visitor Program announced the modification of an exemption affecting many nonimmigrant alien students planning to attend the Fall 2020 semester. According to this exemption, F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant students would not be allowed to take a course load made up completely of online courses and remain in the United States. Such students would be required to either leave the country or take other measures to lawfully remain present. In the case of F-1 nonimmigrant students, they would be allowed to attend schools that had adopted a hybrid model of both in-person and online coursework. The exemption allowed those F-1 nonimmigrant students to attend a maximum of one (1) class or three (3) credit hours of online coursework.
This unexpected policy change was met with widespread condemnation, as well as a barrage of lawsuits from colleges, universities, and state governments. Colleges and universities argued that the measure was unlawful and would adversely affect their institutions. Many schools are dependent upon revenue gained from foreign students, who often pay full tuition costs rather than receiving financial aid or scholarships. In the face of such negative feedback and mounting pressure from colleges and universities, the Trump administration has temporarily abandoned this plan. However, President Trump continues to pressure schools to reopen their doors for the Fall 2020 semester despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While appearing to have abandoned this modification, Department of Homeland Security officials have stated that they intend to issue a regulation in the coming weeks that will affect the ability of foreign students attending online courses to remain in the United States.