COVID-19 FAQ

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 (updated 05/09/2022).

Travel Letter: Download and print this letter for travel to show that you will be able to maintain the US government requirements for international students during the pandemic.
Visa Expedite: Use this letter to request an expedited visa.

ISSS encourages students to apply for their visa early and make plans to come to the US for their studies. At this point most US consulates are open and the majority of students should be able to apply for and receive a visa before the start of the next term. New students will need to ensure they can enroll full-time and be in an in-person, hybrid or hyflex class before making plans to come to the US. USF's spring course schedule is mostly in-person or hybrid, but there are a few classes in the remote, online, or hyflex modalities. Read the different modalities here

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: 

ISSS encourages students to enroll in in-person or hybrid courses for the semester. If you decide to travel between semesters you should plan your travel carefully before leaving the US and make sure you have your USF I-20. Keep in mind that travel conditions and requirements can change. New SEVIS Transfer students who are not able to attend classes in-person 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. Read more about completing the SEVIS transfer process and 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. Keep your department updated as the semester gets closer. If you cannot arrive in time for the start of classes you will want to talk with your department and faculty about your options to complete your course work remotely until you can arrive (see FAQ section on Course Enrollment and Full-Time Status). Please note that not all departments and classes will be able to accommodate a student starting remotely and arriving to campus late. It is crucial that you communicate with your department and faculty and see if an exception can be made. 

  • Undergraduate students contact International Admission: international@usfca.edu
  • 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 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 semesters 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 after you have entered the US and when it is required by your curriculum.

Fall 2022 International Student Orientation will be mostly in-person, review the orientation page for more details. The mandatory orientation will take place in-person on the USF Hilltop campus. There will be additional optional activities offered in a hybrid format. If you miss the required in-person orientation, ISSS will notify you how you can complete this requirement. All new undergraduate students should complete both the international orientation  New Student & Family Orientation from August 13-22. Graduate students should attend the international orientation and the orientation offered by your graduate program.

New international students (with the exception of Canadians) will need to apply for a student visa in order to physically enter the U.S. For continuing students, if your current F1/J1 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. U.S. consulates are offering visa interview waivers for students with visas that expired in the last four years. Please check directly with your consulate for interview waivers, visa processing times, and book your appointment early. Other information about the visa application process can be found on the ISSS visa page and on the U.S. State Department website.

 

Many US consulates have resumed their visa services but appointments may still limited. You should therefore contact your local consulate for more details about appointment availability. In some cases, a student can request an expedited visa appointment if the next required term is within 60 days and there is not an appointment available before then. New students requesting an expedited visa appointment can use this letter.

Traditionally ISSS recommends 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 viable option for some students to explore. If you want to investigate applying in a third country you should:

  1. Contact the consulate where you want to apply and verify that they accept third country national applications.

  2. 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.

  3. Make sure all of your documents are in English and clear outside of the local or regional context.

  4. Prepare information showing cause as to why you are applying in a third country.

Please view the visa information above and also review the visa information on our website.

 

If you have been outside of the US for more than 5 months, your visa stamp in your passport will still remain valid. Check your visa stamp in your passport and make sure it has not expired, and will not expire before you enter the US. As long as it will not expire, it is still valid and you can use it. 

Current SEVP guidance allows ISSS to keep your SEVIS record active while you are outside of the US. As long as you have been a full time student ISSS has been able to keep your SEVIS record active (this does not include new students who have never entered the US to activate their SEVIS record).  When you return to the US you will just need a new I-20 with a travel signature (see section on required travel documents). 

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. 

If you need to renew your visa because it is expiring you will need to renew it before returning. US Consulates are mostly reopened but appointments may be limited. You should book your appointment early and contact your local consulate for more details about appointments availability or how to request an expedited visa appointment. Additionally, students who are renewing a visa that expired in the last 48 months can request a visa interview waiver at their local consulate.

Students coming from abroad should prepare their documents for travel. Continuing students will need to get a travel signature. For the full list of documents and other travel information, please visit the ISSS Travel Page and download the travel letter. All international students entering the US also need to show proof of COVID vaccination and a negative COVID test.

You can obtain a travel signature from ISSS by submitting a request for an “I-20 Reprint” or “DS-2019 Reprint” via your MyISSS student portal. Please see the MyISSS handbook on our website and submit a request page.

If you have taken a Leave of Absence (if you are a continuing student but took a semester off where you were not enrolled full-time), contact your ISSS advisor at least 3 months prior to your planned return date.

The US will require tavelers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. All WHO or US-FDA approved vaccines will be accepted. View acceptable vaccination documentation here and keep it accessible at all times when traveling. There will be some exceptions to the vaccination requirement for youth under 18, those with medical conditions, and those traveling from countries where vaccines are limited. The vaccination requirement will replace the regional travel restrictions.

Per the CDC requirements air travelers who plan to enter the US must also provide a negative COVID-19 test to their airline in order to board their flight. For testing requirements to board your plane, please refer to the CDC link above and contact your airline company. For COVID-19 test location in San Francisco, please refer to this page.

Some countries have restricted flights and travel and students will have to explore different options. 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 response team at travel@usfca.edu

ISSS is aware that as conditions change around the world, flights from the US to other countries can also become limited. SEVP also recognizes that some students may find it difficult to return home during the COVID-19 emergency. 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.

Travel requirements during COVID-19 can change frequently. ISSS will inform you of these changes when they happen and update these frequently asked questions.  We do not know when all travel restrictions will be lifted but conditions have continued to improve and, overall, students should now be able to come to the US for their studies. 

The Fall 2022 course schedule has been released and most courses are in-person or require some in-person attendance. ISSS encourages students to plan to live near campus to attend at least some of their classes in-person. In the course catalog you can view the different modalities for each course. If you are not familiar with the modalities you can read the different modalities descriptions here. 

If you need to be outside of the US for some or all of the semester, please check in with your academic department. If possible you will want to register for classes that are listed as Remote, Online, or Hyflex.  It is important that you discuss your plans with your academic adviser early to allow for any possible adjustments to your schedule. Keep in mind that it may not be possible to complete the classes you need for your degree remotely and we recommend that you come to the US so you can take your classes in-person.

We encourage you to arrive on-time for the semester. If visa delays or travel issues prevent you from arriving on-time USF will try to support you in arriving late. In order for ISSS to make adjustments to your expected arrival date, we need to know that you will be able to keep up in your classes. Most USF classes are in-person or have some in-person components and you will need to discuss your late arrival with your department. If you are able to enroll in classes in the Hyflex modality, this will provide you with the most flexibility to study from outside or inside the US. Graduate students should contact their academic department and keep them updated on their plans. Undergraduates should contact their academic advisor.

SEVP guidance allows students in the US in SEVIS active status to be enrolled in 100% online or remote classes. New students who have not entered the US yet and are in SEVIS Initial status, need to be in at least one 1 unit in-person, hybrid or hyflex class. Note that this SEVP guidance has been extended for the 2022-2023 academic year.

SEVP guidance allows active F-1 students to take classes online within the US or abroad and maintain their F1 status. Initial status students will need to take at least one in-person, hybrid or hyflex class. 

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 due to 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, even from abroad, 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.

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 it can take longer. Students should expect their OPT to be processed in 2-4 months.  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. 

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.

USF is planning for mostly in-person instruction for Fall 2022. Please visit the USF Together website to learn about safety procedures and protocols for fall. Please use this site as your source for the latest USF news and information on COVID-19 and on the return to campus. 

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 (HPS) website. All USF students can use the Student Health Clinics, regardless of insurance coverage. Visit the HPS website for more information on COVID-19 resources or for other insurance or medical questions. You can also schedule a Zoom appointment with an HPS staff member.

Yes, international students are eligible to receive the vaccine and they are readily available. For students living in San Francisco but not on-campus, visit Get vaccinated against COVID-19 for more information and to book a vaccination appointment. USF students living outside of San Francisco but in California can visit The California Department of Public Health. Students located in another state should check the site of your local health department or The Center for Disease Control (CDC).

USF will require all students, faculty and staff, to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Each community member will be required to be vaccinated with one of the vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the World Health Organization (WHO). The list of currently approved vaccines include:

  • Oxford–AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria, Covishield)
  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Sinopharm-BIBP
  • Moderna
  • Johnson & Johnson Jansenn
  • Sinovac/Coronavac
  • Covaxin

Students who have received one of the approved vaccines will be asked to submit proof of vaccination through Med+Proctor before arriving on campus by following the instructions for submitting proof of immunizations on the Health Promotion Services (HPS) website. Please review the USF Together web page for further information.

Students who are not fully vaccinated, but have plans to do so, will be able to attend classes after they have met the quarantine requirement and continue to follow all health and safety protocols. Vaccine appointments are readily available in the US and are covered by student insurance so there is no cost to students. USF will support you in obtaining an appointment if needed.

Students who have received a full or partial vaccine that is not on the list approved by the FDA or WHO will need to be revaccinated before entering the US. There is more information here from the CDC about the US vaccine and testing requirement.


The WHO recommends that you wait a minimum of 28 days before receiving a different vaccine. If you have additional questions about getting a second vaccine you should consult your health care provider.

Students arriving in the US will need to follow federal and local health guidelines. Vaccinated travelers do not need to quarantine. Anyone arriving in California from another US state or another country who is not fully vaccinated with an US approved or WHO approved vaccine will need to self-quarantine for a period of 10 days. Self-quarantine means that the individual will manage their own quarantine period and find their own space with a private room and bathroom. If you are moving into on-campus housing you will need to quarantine for 10 days due to the shared living environment. Watch this video about quarantining on campus and contact SHaRE with any questions or to find out how early you can arrive.

Now that vaccines are required to enter the US, it is unlikely that you will need to quarantine when you arrive.

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. Although we cannot recommend any outside insurers, 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 in other countries, but it is important to purchase higher quality insurance than just finding the cheapest one available.

USF’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center (CAPS), has a variety of services and we encourage you to use them during this stressful time. For students Located outside of California, including in another country, CAPS therapists are not able to provide you on-going counseling. However, you can utilize the CAPS consultation and the CAPS workshops, and have access to CAPS All Hours (24/7) by calling +1(855) 531-0761.
 

If you experience hurtful behavior please let the ISSS office know right away so we can help connect you with the appropriate resource. We also encourage students to report incidents to BERT so USF can track these types of incidents and know what is happening in our community.