F-1 and J-1 Students Taking On-Line Courses in the US
F-1 and J-1 students are required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USDHS) regulations to physically attend the educational institution that issued the Form I-20 (F-1) or Form DS2019 (J-1) visa documents and enroll fulltime ( 12 credit hours for undergraduate programs, 9 credit hours for graduate programs). Full time enrollment must consist of on-campus attendance.
8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) of the F-1 regulations 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, examinations or other purposes integral to completion of the class. An on-line or distance education course is a course that is offered principally through the use of television, audio, or computer transmission including open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, or satellite, audio conferencing, or computer conferencing.
For J -1 students, the regulatory definitions of full course of study and prescribed course of study reference only "classroom" study. The Department of State which governs the J exchange visitor program has verbally communicated its interpretation that because of this, classes that are delivered through online and distance education modalities cannot be used to satisfy the full course of study or full-time prescribed course of study requirements for exchange visitors in the J-1 college and university student category.
Graduate students who have completed classroom instruction and are enrolled for continuation to meet research, dissertation or thesis requirements have asked for permission to move to cities outside of Durham and the surrounding areas or to other states to stay with spouses or relatives. We have confirmed with USDHS that graduate students enrolled for continuation are required to meet the on-campus physical presence requirement (one-on-one time with academic advisors). This means the students’ local physical address must be in the Durham or a surrounding town or city and the student must be pursuing research on campus. Students going overseas to pursue dissertation research for a semester or more should contact their DVS advisors to confirm their departures and discuss how these absences would affect their F-1 or J-1 statuses.
Please note that failure to meet the above requirements means a violation of the F-1 or J-1 visa regulations. Any student believing he/she has a unique situation which warrants additional discussion should contact his or her designated Duke Visa Services Advisor for assistance.