UMD: A Globally Connected University

Student FAQ During COVID-19

Student FAQ During COVID-19

Last Updated 11/12/2020

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CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL (CDC) RESOURCE:
COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Country 

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This page contains information about immigration regulations for currently enrolled F-1 and J-1 international students that can be useful during the COVID-19 situation.

No SEVP guidance for Spring 2021 has been released at this time.  Please see the 10/09/2020 response from SEVP regarding Spring 2021 COVID guidance: 
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has not issued guidance to international students and schools for the Spring 2021 semester. We understand international students and schools have questions, and SEVP is actively working to issue guidance. In the meantime, the temporary procedural adaptations that permit international students to engage in remote learning are still in place through the fall session. As soon as SEVP finalizes guidance for the spring term, the academic community will be updated. Stakeholders will receive information through a variety of communication channels, and information will be updated on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) COVID-19 resource page under the Nonimmigrant Students and SEVP-Certified Schools section. 

ISSS understands that the UMD international community has many questions about the rapidly evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. This webpage answers common questions and shares support resources.

Travel

What is the university's COVID-19 protocol for individuals entering the U.S.?

International students coming to the campus or the College Park area must submit a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 14 days of planned travel to the United States. All students must follow the university guidance for returning to campus. This plan includes taking a COVID-19 training and signing a pledge.

If I go home for the winter break, can I come back to UMD for Spring 2021? What are other issues I must consider before returning to the U.S.?

Any international or domestic travel should be taken with extreme caution, and after checking for any developments of travel restrictions for both the country/area being traveled to, and where you are traveling from.

ISSS is not recommending that students travel over winter break, as your return to campus is too unpredictable and could seriously impact your immigration status. Please visit our website on travel to learn more about travel considerations.

I am from one of the five geographic locations that are restricted from traveling directly to the U.S., but I heard this restriction is lifted. Is this true?

No, the restriction remains as indicated in this FAQ.

However, the Department of State has announced that students from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland can apply for an F-1 visa to enter the U.S. We advise you to have this announcement from Customs and Border Protection available when you travel to campus since it confirms that that airlines should allow students from these countries to board flights to the U.S. and may also be helpful at the U.S. port of entry. J-1 students from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland can request a “national interest exception” (NIE) when they apply for a visa.

Students from these restricted regions who need a visa should reach out to the U.S. embassies in their home country to see what process they should follow to request a national interest exception as a student.

What do I do if my I-20 or DS-2019 travel signature is not valid when I want to return to the U.S.?

The travel signature rules remain the same (one year for F-1 and J-1 enrolled students and six months for students on OPT). If your travel signature is expired and you need an updated signature, students can request a new I-20/DS-2019 for travel. F-1 students log into iTerp>F-1 Student Services and submit the electronic form titled, Travel Signature. Once the document is created, students will receive an email with their updated I-20. SEVP indicated an electronic or digital travel signature will be valid for the same duration as an ink signature (12 months for F students and six months for students on OPT). As a reminder, ISSS is not recommending travel over winter break.

At this time ISSS is not able to give in-person travel signatures; any request for a travel signature should be completed on the iTerp system instead. Remember, you do not need a valid travel signature to depart the U.S.

What should I do if I am completing my program but my travel plans are complicated by a lack of commercially available flights or my country doesn’t permit me to enter and I’m unable to depart within my grace period?

SEVP recognizes that some students may find it difficult to return home during the COVID-19 emergency due to diminished travel options. Students in this situation are encouraged to communicate with an ISSS advisor for guidance and to assess options for alternative study arrangements.

Will I be able to obtain a visa in time to come to UMD for spring term?

The U.S. Department of State is resuming routine visa services in a phased-in process, based on local conditions. Check with the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest you to find out more about their plans and about your options for scheduling an appointment for a visa interview. Try to schedule your visa interview appointment as soon as possible. There may be significant delays due to backlogs and new physical distancing protocols at embassies and consulates. In some cases, the option to schedule a visa interview through “expedited processing” may still be available.

 

Health and Support

Where do I find information about how the university is managing COVID-19?

The university maintains the 4Maryland website that provides the UMD community the most updated information about reopening plans. Review this site for information on health, classes, testing, FAQs, statistics and many other important resources related to the pandemic.

I am really worried and stressed. Where can I find support?

The Counseling Center is committed to ensuring that students are cared for during this time of uncertainty caused by COVID-19. In response to the pandemic, the Counseling Center successfully transitioned most of its services to an online format. See their website for information about an intake appointment.

They also maintain a COVID-19 care and support resource page. https://www.counseling.umd.edu/covid19/

I am experiencing xenophobia, racism, harassment or bullying. What can I do and where can I find support?

Bias Incident Support Services (BISS) provides services to community members affected by a hate-bias incident. BISS can talk with you and explore options and provide oncoming support and check-ins.

Students can also reach out to the University Counseling center for emotional support: 301-314-7651.

Will the UMD student SHIP insurance plan cover COVID-19 testing and treatment?

Yes, the Student Health Insurance Plan is a platinum level insurance plan that covers testing and treatment. For details about the SHIP CareFirst Blue Preferred PPO plan call 1-855-891-0173 or visit https://umd.myahpcare.com/.

 

F-1/J-1 Enrolled Students (I-20 already activated)

Where can I find the guidance from Homeland Security regarding what flexibility is allowed for my course registration?

Currently only Fall 2020 guidance has been published. ISSS will update this link and all our FAQs as soon as Spring 2021 guidance is made available.

If I am enrolled for classes [online], but outside of the U.S. for more than five months, will I lose my visa status?

No, students pursuing study abroad opportunities, conducting research, or performing any other activity while maintaining appropriate class enrollment do not lose their visa status. As long as the Fall 2020 guidance extends to spring during the COVID-19 pandemic, students who maintain their enrollment while taking classes online will be considered as maintaining their status and will not be subject to the "Five Month Rule." However, students who are outside the U.S. for more than five months and not enrolled or pursuing their program objectives will lose their visa status.

 

Leave of Absence

I am a current student and am considering taking a leave of absence for Spring 2021. What immigration issues do I need to consider?

Current, active F-1/J-1 students not planning to register for Spring 2021 are not permitted to remain in the U.S. during a leave of absence (LOA).

If your LOA is approved by undergraduate or graduate admissions, your I-20 or DS-2019 will be terminated for an early authorized withdrawal. A termination comes with a 15-day grace period. Please log on to iTerp and fill out the Exit Plan form so that we can record your departure plans and end the I-20.

In order to return, you must follow the Undergraduate or Graduate School re-enrollment process. Once approved to re-enroll, prior to the semester you return, work with ISSS and provide the necessary documents for the creation of a new immigration document. Please contact Katrina Knudsen at knudsenk@umd.edu within five months of your anticipated return to start the I-20 application.

A new SEVIS fee is required for this new immigration document. If your F-1/J-1 visa remains valid for your return, you are permitted to use it even if your SEVIS number will be different. If your F-1/J-1 visa is not valid, you will need to apply for a new one at a U.S. embassy.

When you return to UMD, you will be in a new period of F-1 status. You may only enter the U.S. up to 30 days prior to the start of the new I-20. You will be required to complete the Documents Check process to activate your new SEVIS record. The regulations limit F-1 students from participating in any off-campus employment benefits (CPT or OPT) until you have finished both a fall and spring semester (or four terms for a student participating in a 12-week term program).

I want to take a semester off while outside the U.S.; is that possible?

Students are permitted to take a semester off (spring, fall) if desired, from outside of the U.S. You must notify the ISSS office of your plans using the exit form found in iTerp. Taking a semester off will mean the loss of your F-1 status and will require a new immigration document for your future return. Students should first talk to their academic advisor about the process to request a leave of absence and the process to return to study at a later time. See the information above for more details on a LOA.

I want to drop all my classes and stay in the U.S., is that possible?

The COVID-19 flexibilities do not allow for part-time enrollment or a suspension of study.

International students who need to remain in the U.S. while taking a semester off would need to show there is a serious health condition that does not permit study.

To obtain authorization, the student must submit to ISSS a completed Part-Time Authorization with a physician's support letter form via iTerp.

 

Curricular/Optional Practical Training Concerns

I started my program outside the U.S. for Fall 2020. When am I eligible to apply for off-campus internships (CPT)?

To be eligible for curricular training, students must be in F-1 status for one academic year before becoming eligible. Since your first semester was spent outside the U.S., your I-20 was not activated and you were not maintaining F-1 status for that semester. Students entering the U.S. in Spring 2021 to start their F-1 status will need to complete the Spring 2021 and Fall 2021 semesters before they will be eligible for CPT.

My CPT internship will be remote. Is this permitted and what address should I enter?

Remote work is permitted. Enter the employers address in the employers address section of the CPT request form and include the address where you will conduct the remote work in the remarks section. ISSS will include both addresses when we communicate your CPT authorization to SEVP.

I need to apply for OPT. May I apply remotely from elsewhere in the U.S.?

OPT workshops are offered online and recommendations for OPT are done via the iTerp portal. ISSS advisors prepare your OPT I-20 recommendation and it will be sent to you electronically. During the COVID-19 emergency this electronic copy can be used for your application. Current rules require you to be in the U.S. to file an OPT application.

I’m on OPT and I’m working remotely due to COVID-19. Do I need to update my SEVP portal?

You should continue to report the physical address of your employer in the address field of your employer and not your home address. You can reference your remote work in the work descriptions or keep records of the agreed upon remote work arrangement. Keep in mind any update to a position must be reported in the SEVP portal within ten days of a change, which includes termination, starting a new position or change in supervision.

I'm on OPT and still working, but my hours have been cut to below 20 hours per week. Will this count against my unemployment days?

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. Students must keep records that they are still employed but at a reduced rate for a temporary period.

 

Newly Arriving Students (Spring 2021)

I am a new student who started my studies in Fall 2020 from abroad and I now plan to enter the U.S. for the Spring 2021 semester. Can I choose online classes only?

As mentioned above, SEVP has not issued guidance for Spring 2021. At this time, we are suggesting that students follow the guidance issued for the Fall 2020 semester. It is important to remember this flexibility is subject to change.

Fall guidance requires any newly entering student to register for a course that has face-to-face instruction in order to be permitted entry into the U.S. Hybrid courses can be used to meet this requirement as long as face-to-face instruction/meetings occur on a regular basis. Students with only online courses are not permitted to enter and should remain in their home country and engage in the Spring 2021 semester online or request a deferral of their admission to a new term.

I have received an I-20 and a student visa. Since Spring 2021 will be conducted in a hybrid environment at UMD, can I enter the U.S. if my particular academic program for Spring 2021 is entirely online?

No, since you will be taking online classes only, you will not be able to enter the U.S. Despite the university offering hybrid courses, you in particular must have a face-to-face course in order for entry to be permitted. If face-to-face courses are not permitted in your program, you will need to request an updated I-20 with a later start date. You can enter the U.S. when your program offers hybrid or in-person classes.

I already received my I-20 for Spring 2021. Can I use it to apply for a visa and enter the U.S.?

You can use your I-20 for Spring 2021 to apply for a visa. Once you receive your visa, you are permitted to enter the U.S. no earlier than 30 days from the start date on your I-20. Entry into the U.S. for Spring 2021 can begin as early as Dec. 19, 2020.

Will I need a new I-20 confirming that UMD is offering in-person and hybrid classes for Spring 2021?

No. Current DHS guidance does not require this. You can use the most recent I-20 you received from ISSS to enter the U.S. If you want, you can also download and print this letter, which explains UMDs plans for the Spring Term. You are also encouraged to print a copy of your class schedule from Testudo to show, if requested. It should clearly indicate your in-person or hybrid (blended) course selections.

Will I need to quarantine once I arrive in the U.S.?

4Maryland keeps the most updated information about what is required to enter/return to campus.

I am a new student and I plan to study remotely for Spring 2021. Will I receive a new I-20?

Students who were issued an I-20 for spring but will defer admission to fall or plan to remain in your home country for the Spring 2021 semester should complete the Spring 2021 Intent Form. ISSS will use this form to provide you with information about the next steps needed in order to receive a new I-20 for a Fall 2021 entry. The intent form will be available on your I-20 checklist in early December.

I am a new student who will study remotely. Am I required to enroll full-time?

Since you will not be in active F-1 or J-1 status, F-1 or J-1 immigration requirements will not apply to you, so you will not be required to enroll full-time. You may take as many or as few credits as you want, and these can all be online. However, be sure to check with your academic program as you plan your course schedule for the spring term. Your academic program may require you to enroll for a specific number of credits.

Students who are transferring their F-1 status to UMD from another U.S. institution, wish to participate in a remote study semester, and are trying to maintain their current F-1 status will need to enroll in full-time study.

If I am an undergraduate student and plan to study remotely from outside the U.S. for Spring 2021, will I be required to enroll in the international student health insurance plan?

New students who will not enter the U.S. for the Spring 2021 semester will not be required to enroll in health insurance. ISSS will use the information from your Spring 2021 Intent Form to disenroll undergraduate F-1/J-1 students from your automatic health insurance enrollment.

I am a transfer student and already have an unexpired F-1 in my passport. Do I have to apply for a new F-1 visa?

The U.S. Department of State’s policy is that a student does not need to apply for a new F-1 visa if the student’s current visa is still valid, regardless of length of time outside the U.S. The unexpired visa will still be valid even though it has the previous institution's name listed on it. For more information: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/2017/01/questions-dsos-do-students-returning-temporary-absences-need-new-visas

 

Other Resources

How do I reach an ISSS advisor during this time?

ISSS advisors are available through the following methods:

 

Additional UMD Resources