Limits on Virtual Classes for International Students to Be Reinstated

The Department of Homeland Security reversed a COVID-era exemption affecting international students.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on May 30, 2023
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  • International students in the U.S. will soon be limited to one online course per semester.
  • The change is set to take effect at the start of the 2023-24 academic year.
  • These students have been able to take a majority of their classes virtually since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • President Joe Biden recently ended the COVID-19 national emergency, which instigated this student visa change.

Students studying in the U.S. on student visas will soon be forced to return to in-person instruction for nearly all their classes if they want to remain in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it is rescinding its COVID-era guidance that allowed those on F-1 or M-1 student visas to take nearly all of their classes virtually.

Beginning with the 2023-24 academic year, those with F-1 student visas will once again be allowed to take just one of their classes — up to three credits — online each semester. Those with an M-1 visa won't be allowed to take any virtual classes.

It's the latest return to pre-pandemic policy after President Joe Biden ended the COVID-19 national emergency on May 11.

Students who plan to take summer classes can continue to enjoy the COVID-era exemption this upcoming summer semester. International students in the U.S. were allowed to remain in the country if they took at least one in-person class during the 2022-23 academic year.

International students who were forced to go entirely online during the pandemic have been able to remain fully online since March 2020. This will also change, however, with the start of the 2023-24 academic year. Pre-COVID regulations will be enforced for all international students, with no exceptions for those already studying in the U.S.

International students may stay enrolled in fully online programs, but they cannot remain in the U.S. on a student visa.

That means they must have some other legal status claim — such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) — to remain in the U.S. Or, they can live in their home country and continue to take their online classes outside of the U.S.

F-1 student visas are distributed to students who plan to take academic courses in the U.S. M-1 visas, meanwhile, are for those interested in nonacademic or vocational courses.