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 4/26/2021).

ISSS encourages students, who are able to get visas and travel, to come to the US for the fall semester. New students will need to ensure they can enroll in an in-person, hybrid or hyflex class before making plans to come to the US. USF's course schedule is a mix of in-person, hybrid, remote, hyflex, and online classes. Read the different modalities descriptions here.

Given the global impact of of COVID-19 there are other challenges for international students applying for visas and traveling to the US. 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 Fall 2021 semester and 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 choose to be 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. 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 make sure you can continue to complete your course work remotely until you can arrive (see FAQ section on Course Enrollment and Full-Time Status).

  • 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 2021 International Student Orientation takes place from Tuesday, August 17 - Saturday, August 21 with both optional and mandatory activities. The orientation will be offered in both in-person and hybrid format and students will be able to complete it from wherever they are located. The ISSS International Student Orientation is separate from the required  undergraduate New Student & Family Orientation or 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 are still limited and in some cases the waitlists are quite long. 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.

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.

 

Good news, the US Department of State has announced that students on an F1 or J1 visa will be exempt from the 14 entry restrictions when arriving for the fall semester. This means that our international students DO NOT need to quarantine in a third country for 14 days and YOU CAN fly directly to the US when arriving within 30 days of the fall semester. Prior to entry for the fall semester, the entry restrictions will apply. NOTE: A new entry restriction was issued for India on April 30 and we expect travelers from India to also receive the National Interest Exemptions below but are waiting for official confirmation.

Students traveling in the F1 visa category will automatically receive the National Interest Exemption when entering up to 30 days before the start of the fall semester.

Students traveling in the J1 visa category will need to apply for the National Interest Exemption at your local US consulate when entering up to 30 days before the start of the fall semester.

All students will need to have a valid F1 or J1 visa to enter the US (except Canadians).

More information about the 14 days entry restriction by country or regions can be found here: China, Iran, European Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City), United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland), Republic of Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, India.

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 incredibly 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 response team at travel@usfca.edu

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.

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.

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).  If you return for the fall 2021 semester you will just need a new I-20 with a travel signature (see travel documents required). 

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. ISSS does not know when this will be but we are hopeful that they will be lifted as health conditions improve around the world and the vaccine is more readily. 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 need to renew it before returning. US Consulates are reopening around the world but visa appointments will be limited because of limited staffing and appointment backlogs 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. Additionally, students who are renewing a visa that expired in the last 48 months can request a visa interview waiver at their local consulate.

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.

USF has planned to be primarily in-person for the fall 2021 semester but there are a couple hundred classes being offered in a format that can be taken from abroad. ISSS encourages students, who are able to get visas and travel, to come to the US for the fall semester. If you will not be able to arrive in the US for fall you will have some enrollment options but they will be limited. The course catalog lists different modalities to indicate if the course will be in-person or if it can be taken remotely. Read the different modalities descriptions here. 

If you need to be outside of the US for fall 2021 you will want to register for classes that are listed as Remote, Online, or Hyflex. If you have additional questions about your course selection, contact your Academic Adviser or graduate program. It is important that you discuss your plans with your academic adviser early to allow for any possible adjustments to your schedule.

We encourage you to arrive on-time for the semester. If visa delays or travel issues prevent you from arriving on-time USF will do everything we can to support you in arriving late. ISSS is able to support your immigration record if you arrive late in the fall. However, 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. If you are in the US and can be in-person, ISSS recommends that you enroll in mostly in-person classes to allow these online and remote classes for the students who cannot arrive and need to be remote.

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. 

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 if you choose to pay for shipping and receive a hard copy I-20. 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. Do not mail original I-20 to USCIS. 

3) During the COVID-19 outbreak USCIS will temporarily accept a copy of the I-765. You still need to sign the I-765 (No electronic signature) 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.

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.

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.

Student Housing and Residential Education (SHaRE) is offering on-campus housing. Please contact SHaRE for any on-campus or off-campus housing questions.

The USF office of off-campus living can help you find a place to live in the San Francisco or the surrounding Bay Area.

Students can see more resources on the ISSS Financial Aid page. 

USF is planning for the return of in-person instruction for fall 2021. 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. Most states in the US are now distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to anyone 16 years and older depending on availability. For students living in San Francisco, 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).
 

Currently, USF has not mandated the COVID-19 vaccine for students, however, we highly urge students to schedule and make a plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they are able. Note that USF is working with health and legal experts as they consider requiring all students to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 for fall 2021. The requirement would go into effect when the vaccine has received full approval from the U.S Food and Drug Administration or at the start of the fall semester, whichever is later. Please review the USF Together web page for further information.

Since USF does not require students to get the vaccine, at this time you would not need to get a new vaccine. If this policy changes, USF will clarify which vaccines are accepted at that time.

Students arriving in the US will need to follow federal and local health guidelines. Anyone arriving in California from another US state or another country 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, contact SHaRE about the quarantine process and to find out how early you can 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.