As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, it's important to stay up-to-date on immigration information related to your international student status. In an effort to answer your questions related to a variety of topics including visas and travel, online classes, and work authorizations, see FAQ below.
On July 24th the US government confirmed that new F1 students will not be able to come to the US if they are enrolled in an entirely online class schedule. USF's course schedule is a mix of remote, hybrid, and in-person classes. New students will need to ensure they can enroll in an in-person or hybrid class before making plans to come to the US.
Given the global impact of COVID-19 there are other challenges for international students applying for visas and traveling to the US (even if you have a in-person class). See the section below regarding Visas and Travel for more information. New students who have additional questions about coming to USF after reading the information below should contact their admission office:
If you want to be present for the semester, ISSS recommends that you do not depart the US. Existing travel restrictions and limited flight availability make it difficult to return. If you depart the US you may not be able to return when you want to. New SEVIS Transfer students who are abroad for their first semester at USF will need to have their SEVIS record ended. Contact ISSS 60 days before the next term you will be returning for so we can assist you in turning your SEVIS record back on and issue you a new I-20. SEVIS Transfer students outside of the US will need a hybrid or in-person class to reenter. See the section below regarding Visas and Travel for more information.
If you cannot arrive in time for the start of the semester please notify your department below and share your arrival plans. Your department will be able to assist you in getting a new I-20.
- Undergraduate students contact International Admission: email@example.com
- Graduate students contact your academic department
F-1 international students need to be in full-time status for two consecutive semesters to be eligible for OPT and CPT.
OPT: Most F-1 students save their OPT to use after they complete their degree. For USF graduate programs that are 12 or 18 months long, students will be able to count their 2nd and 3rd terms towards the requirement and be eligible to apply for OPT at the end of their program. Longer USF graduate programs and the undergraduate program are provide more time for students to arrive and have two semesters of full-time status before applying for OPT.
CPT: New F-1 students who start their program abroad and enter the US later, will need to complete two full-time semester to be eligible for CPT. If you are in a graduate program that requires you to do an internship or practicum in your first year, you will be eligible to apply for CPT when it is required by your curriculum.
New international students (except Canadians) will need to apply for a student visa. For continuing students, if your student visa will expire before you plan to return to the U.S., you need to renew it. The visa renewal application is much like the initial visa application and in many cases will require you to apply in person and sit for an interview. Some US consulates are offering visa interview waivers for students with visas that recently expired. Check with your consulate for interview waivers, visa processing times, and book your appointment early. Other information about the visa application process can be found here on the ISSS website and on the U.S. State Department website.
Many US consulates have resumed their visa services but appointments are still limited. You should contact your local consulate for more details about appointment availability. In some cases, a student can request an expedited visa appointment if there is not one available before the next required term.
Usually we recommend students to apply in their home country because this is the best way to show ties to their country of citizenship. However, with the limited number of visa appointments available, this could be a good option for some students. If you want to apply in a third country you should:
- Contact the consulate where you want to apply and verify that they accept third country national applications.
- Review the documents that are required to apply for a visa at this consulate. Some consulates may require additional forms or information based on the country they are located in.
- Make sure all of your documents are in English and clear outside of the local or regional context.
- Prepare information about why you are applying in a third country.
View the visa information above and also review the visa information on our website.
Students who are abroad and trying to return to the U.S. should be aware of the U.S. travel restrictions. These entry restrictions, listed on the CDC webpage for reference, currently prohibits entry to travelers originating in or transiting China, Iran, South Africa and Brazil. If you are in one of these countries you may need to travel to a third country that does not have this restriction and remain there for 14 days before being able to enter the US. When planning for your return to the US you will want to consider flight, travel, and entry restrictions.
Some countries have restricted flights and travel and students will have to explore options to travel and possibly travel to a nearby country that is offering flights. The conditions are dynamic and changing by the day with some countries adding restrictions and others easing them. Information about travel related to COVID-19 can be found on the CDC website.
USF can provide support and information for your travel so that you can make the best decision for you and your family about how and when to travel to campus. Please contact our global mobility team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students coming from abroad should prepare their documents for travel. Continuing students will need to get a travel signature (see travel signature information). For the full list of documents and other travel information, please visit the ISSS Travel Page. You can also download this travel support letter to bring with you when traveling.
You can obtain a travel signature from ISSS by submitting a request for an “I-20 Reprint” or “DS-2019 Reprint” via our new student platform, MyISSS. Please see the MyISSS handbook on our website and submit a request page.
Continuing students who are enrolled full-time this Fall 2020 will be able to keep their SEVIS record active and your visa will remain valid. Students who are full-time and have active F1/J1 SEVIS records only need a new visa if your visa has expired and you want to enter the US after the expiration date. If you are a full-time student and your visa is valid you can still use it to enter the US.
The US Government office called the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has said it is fine for students to take classes online outside of the US and their records are still valid. This is an exception given by the SEVP office for the coronavirus pandemic. Also, SEVP has said that visas remain active even under regular circumstances for students who are maintaining their full-time status abroad and are active in SEVIS. You can view the SEVP statement about this here.
You are able to stay in the U.S. with an expired F-1 visa stamp as long as you are actively maintaining your F-1 student status. If you leave the U.S. and your F-1 visa stamp in your passport has expired, you will need to apply and receive a new visa before returning. Please contact ISSS if you have additional questions about maintaining your F-1 status.
ISSS is aware that many international flights to impacted regions have been cancelled, and that travel may not be available at this time. SEVP also recognizes that some students may find it difficult to return home during the COVID-19 emergency because of diminished travel options. If your program or OPT training is ending soon and you are unable to depart the United States, please contact ISSS directly to let us know about your situation. We will work with you to determine the best path forward. We also urge you to also contact your home country’s local consulate or embassy in the U.S. for support and information regarding travel home. Your ISSS advisor will document your situation and record any material information related to your inability to leave the country due to COVID-19.
We do not know when the travel restrictions will be lifted. Students who have gone home will not be able to return until travel restrictions are removed and they can come back to the U.S.. ISSS does not know when this will be. If travel restrictions are still in place, USF will respond as needed to help students stay in classes and on track from wherever they are.
If you need to renew your visa because it is expiring you will want to make your visa appointment right away. Visa appointments will be limited because of consulate closures in many countries. You should contact your local consulate for more details about when they plan to reopen and when visa appointments will become available. In some cases a student can request an expedited visa appointment if there is not one available before the next required term.
Per the CDC announcement, beginning January 26, 2021, air travelers who plan to enter the US need to provide a negative COVID-19 test to their airline in order to board their flight. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger. Additionally, upon arrival in the US, state and local public health authorities now require all travelers (international and domestic) returning to the Bay Area to quarantine. Please read the regulations linked above for additional information.
Current SEVP guidance allows active F-1 students to take classes online within the US or abroad and maintain their F1 status. ISSS will keep your F-1 status active and your visa will remain valid as long as you enroll full-time and otherwise maintain your F1 status.
You can find details about USF's spring 2021 plan, including mode of instruction, in the USF COVID-19 information page. USF plans to have primarily remote classes for the spring. Continuing international students who cannot return to campus will have options to continue their classes online from outside of the US.
Dropping below full-time enrollment without prior authorization is a violation of your immigration status. If you are concerned about your grades please speak with your professor and discuss your options. You can also make an appointment with your ISSS advisor to discuss the qualifications for a Reduced Course Load (RCL) authorization.
You can apply for OPT up to 90 days before your program end date (the day you complete all degree requirements). ISSS recommends that you apply as early as possible. You can submit your OPT application online to ISSS here and pay for ISSS to mail your OPT I-20 back to you. ISSS will complete this request within our office standard processing time and once an ISSS advisor reviews your application they will mail your I-20 back to you. This can take 12-14 days for you to get your OPT I-20. Once you received your application back from ISSS remember:
1) Your OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the I-20 issuance date (see date next to ISSS blue signature on page 1 of I-20).
2) Be sure to sign and date your OPT I-20 (bottom of page 1) and submit a photocopy with your application.
3) During the COVID-19 outbreak USCIS will temporarily accept a copy of the I-765. You still need to sign the I-765 but can send a copy of it with your mailed application. You must retain the original signed in black ink only for your records.
4) Your OPT application needs to be mailed to USCIS from within the US.
Filing your OPT with USCIS and then departing the US will not impact your OPT application. However, if you are outside of the US and your OPT is approved, you are expected to have your EAD card to return to the US. Please refer to the ISSS OPT Travel information here. The other consideration is if you are outside of the US and cannot return because of continued travel restrictions. In this case, you may begin to gain days of unemployment. Keep in mind that you can volunteer or do unpaid work in your field of study to count as employment while on OPT. Read more about OPT employment rules and how to report your employment.
The documents needed to travel on OPT are listed here on the ISSS website. When approved for OPT you should have a valid F1 visa, valid passport, travel signature in the last 6 months, your EAD card, and a letter from your employer. Traveling without all of these required documents is at your own risk. ISSS has heard from students who have entered without a letter from their employer but they did not have very many days on unemployment and had examples of jobs they were applying for and a resume. It is best to have all the documents that are required to minimize travel issues.
Due to COVID-19 it is likely that there will be a slowdown in hiring and it may be harder to find jobs. ISSS encourages students to explore different avenues for working, such as unpaid internships, volunteering, and networking with faculty and alumni. Remember that you need to work over 20 hours per week to maintain your status on OPT. Volunteering or unpaid internships are a great option for preventing days of unemployment. Students on the 12 months have 90 days of unemployment. Students on STEM OPT have an additional 60 days of unemployment. Read more about OPT employment rules and how to report your employment.
Must students cease engaging in OPT if they are now working fewer than 20 hours a week due to the economic impacts of COVID-19? For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT.
If a student is temporarily furloughed but still employed by the organization, you should contact your employer to get proof that you are still considered employed during this furlough period. This proof of employment may be helpful if you are later applying for a US visa or immigration benefit and want to show that you were doing everything you could to maintain your status.
The standard processing time for USCIS to process OPT is 90 business days but they currently state that an OPT application can take 2 to 5 months. It is possible that the pandemic will cause delays and students should expect that their OPT application could take more than 90 days to process. If your OPT is processed by USCIS after the start date you requested, USCIS will put the start date that they process it on. This means that you will gain the least number of unemployment days possible if your OPT is delayed by USCIS. Students whose OPT is delayed and processed after the end of the regular 60 day grace period will remain in status while their OPT is being processed.
International students on OPT should always have health insurance. Many employers will provide health insurance when you have a full-time job. If you do not currently have a job or your employer does not provide health insurance you should purchase it on your own. One insurance provider that has been popular with our USF international students is ISO International Student Insurance. Health insurance in the US is usually more expensive than other countries, but it is important to purchase a higher quality insurance then just finding the cheapest one available.
If you need to stop working with your current CPT employer for a COVID-19 related reason or otherwise, ISSS recommends that you report this to us so we can update your SEVIS record to match your actual employment dates. Please contact your ISSS advisor and let them know your last day of working. You should also contact your CPT course instructor to discuss if you need to find other projects to make up the remaining time of your CPT work.
Due to COVID-19, many social security offices are closed; however, some have resumed in-person appointments or are allowing students to submit copies by mail or fax. Students should call their local Social Security Administration office and ask about their options. Students should not mail their original passports or I-20s to the social security office. The SSA offices may be experiencing a backlog of appointments. Students are encouraged to get in touch with a representative and should remain persistent to ensure they receive an appointment as soon as possible.
If you have student health insurance you can download your card and find medical providers who are covered by your health insurance on the Health Promotion Services website. All USF students can use the Student Health Clinics, regardless of insurance coverage. Please contact Health Promotion Office for any insurance or medical questions. They are offering Zoom appointments.