FAQs on Student Visa Requirements and Online / Hybrid Courses
What is an “online” class?
For US immigration purposes, an online class is a class offered principally through electronic means (remote transmission, televised conferencing, etc.) and which does not require the student’s physical attendance for classes, examinations, or other purposes integral to the completion of the class. In general, ‘physical attendance’ implies that the student is required to appear on the premises of the campus to participate in the instructional activity.
What if the class is taught online but has in-person components that require physical attendance?
If the class requires the student’s physical attendance on campus for a required instructional activity – including lectures, examinations, discussion groups, laboratories, recitations, etc. – then the class is considered a "hybrid" or "blended" class and will not be counted as an online class for immigration purposes. The in-person components must be for a required component included in the evaluation of student performance.
What if the class has no required in-person components?
The class would be considered online for immigration purposes.
Are research, thesis / dissertation, independent study, or internship / practicum classes considered on-line or virtual?
Generally, no. It is assumed that these classes involve on-site or in-person research or practical training activity, even if certain segments of these classes may be done remotely in individual situations.
Are there meaningful immigration differences between terms such as "online," "remote" or "virtual"?
Not really. For immigration purposes the main issue is whether or not a class has components that requires physical presence for purposes of course completion. Any class that does not require physical attendance for all or some class activities is considered 'online' or 'remote' or 'virtual.' Classes that include required in-person activities but are otherwise taught online are considered hybrid or blended, and are not included in any restrictions on online course enrollment. Classes that require physical attendance throughout are considered fully in-person.
Visa Restrictions and On-line Classes
What are the standard visa regulations concerning international students and online classes?
Under standard student visa regulations, international students are required to maintain a full course of study, i.e., full-time enrollment as a condition of maintaining valid immigration status. Furthermore, the regulations specify that no more than the equivalent of one class for a maximum of three credits per session offered through online or distance education may be counted toward the full course of study requirement. In addition:
Students in English-language programs are not permitted to count any on-line instruction toward the full course of study requirement
Students in J-1 exchange visitor status are generally not permitted to count any online classes toward the full course of study requirement
While students are permitted to take a part-time course load in the final term of study (if only a part-time load is needed to complete degree requirements), the final term course load cannot consist of exclusively online classes; the one-class, three-credit limitation still applies
Students may take online classes in excess of the full course of study minimums (for undergraduates, 12 SHUs of courses; for graduate students, 9 SHUs or 6 SHUs + TA/RA or enrollment in full-time thesis or dissertation continuation course)
What accommodations are in place for Fall 2021 / Spring 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
As of Fall 2021, the International Center is interpreting COVID-19 guidelines to still apply. F-1 or J-1 students arriving on campus may continue to take remote or online classes, but should include at least one in-person or hybrid class in their schedules. This is the minimum needed to ensure compliance with restrictions. Of course, many schools and programs are hoping to resume a fully in-person or mostly in-person Fall 2021 experience. As a result, most students should be able to satisfy this minimum compliance requirement.
Our program has decided to continue in a fully online mode for the Fall 2021 / Spring 2022 semester. What does this mean for new international students?
New international students who are not yet in the US will not be eligible to enter the US if programs will offer only online instruction. This applies regardless of whether they have obtained a valid visa.
What if the class offers a fully remote and a fully in-person (or mixed remote / in-person) option?
While both options may be offered to international students, international students may not be allowed to count the fully remote version of the class toward the full-time enrollment requirement. If the class offers a combination of on-line and in-person activities, the in-person activities must be taken and considered integral to completion of the class.
Do these restrictions apply if a student is taking online classes from outside the US?
No. Immigration restrictions and full-time enrollment requirements apply only to those students physically present in the US on student visas.