UMD: A Globally Connected University

FAQ During COVID-19

FAQ During COVID-19

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

Enrollment Requirements

My spring classes are now online, do they still meet the full-time enrollment to maintain my status?

At this time, there is no change to the F-1 full time enrollment requirement.  

  • F-1 students must be enrolled full-time in every fall/spring semester or terms except their last semester.  (Part time permission in your last semester must be approved). 
  • In a regular full-time semester, students can count a maximum of one online class toward their full time enrollment.
  • For this current spring semester, there is NOT a problem with regular coursework being temporarily converted to online coursework for the safety of the community. Currently, the University has approved online enrollment until the end of the spring semester. ISSS has informed SEVP of this plan and F-1 and J-1 students are permitted to maintain F-1 status while fully enrolled online
    You can view the SEVP government update here.

What about for next semester, can I enroll in all online classes?

As we look ahead to next semester, please enroll in desired coursework as usual, following regular F-1 rules. This means students can count a maximum of one online class toward their full time enrollment. If the usual operations of campus remain impacted  for Fall 2020, the University will post updated information and ISSS will work with students regarding their F-1 status.

 

Travel

Please Note: If you are an F-1 or J-1 student with an immigration document that has expired or it has been shortened because you have informed us you would return home, you are not permitted to return to the US using F1/J1 status. Your immigraiton document is no longer valid and doesn’t permit re-entry.

If I am enrolled for classes [online] but outside of the U.S. for more than 5 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. 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 US for more than five months and not enrolled or pursuing their program objectives will lose their visa status.

Should I return to my country? 

  • Any international or domestic travel should be taken with caution, and after checking for any developments of travel restrictions for both the country/area being travelled to, and where you are travelling from.
  • Check for travel updates here.
  • Factors to consider:
    • The area you are traveling to could experience an outbreak and implement a quarantine, and you would not be able to leave that area until the quarantine is lifted.
    • The area you are traveling to could have mandatory quarantine for all incoming travelers.
    • While you are travelling, there is an outbreak in the DMV area and travel restrictions are imposed on returning to the DMV area.
    • Consider health insurance coverage at your destination.  Do you have health insurance in the US?
    • Are you able to be flexible in case your travel in either direction is delayed. Consider course work and any authorized work., CPT
    • Purchase flights that have flexible cancellation. 
  • If travel is not possible or students have significant extenuating circumstances and need to remain on campus; please use the resident life application process for this request.
  • For South Campus Commons and The Courtyards, students who live there and have extreme hardship can petition for emergency housing by March 27 by using these links
  • Students living off campus must make a personal decision if they will stay or return.  The situation for each student will be different depending on many factors. 
  • Before returning from overseas please check the UMD Coronavirus site to see if UMD, the State of Maryland or the US has imposed any self isolation outside campus for international travelers .   

If I go home for the spring 2020 term, can I come back to UMD for Fall 2020?

During this uncertain time, it’s difficult to know what the situation will be in August. You will need to see how things evolve over the summer.

It is very important for you to review the validity of your F-1/J-1 visa.  Many US consulates abroad have been closed or are closing and are not open for renewal.  Students from China and India should anticipate a backlog of appointments even for the fall semester.  Visa renewal at this moment is not possible in many countries.  Please see the latest notice from the Department of State: 

“In response to worldwide challenges related to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Department of State is suspending routine visa services in most countries worldwide. Embassies and consulates in these countries will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 18, 2020. These embassies and consulates will resume routine visa services as soon as possible, but we are unable to provide a specific date at this time. Check the website of the embassy or consulate for its current operating status: usembassy.gov.

What do I do if my I-20 or DS219 travel signature is not valid when I want to return to the US?

At this time ISSS is not able to give in person travel signatures. Remember, you do not need a valid travel signature to depart the US.

If the travel signature rules remain the same (one year for F-1 and J-1 enrolled students, and 6 months for students on OPT) and you need an updated signature, students can request a new I-20/DS2019 for travel. F-1 students log into iTerp>F-1 Student Services and submit the eform titled,Travel Signature. Once the document is created students will pay to have the I-20 shipped to the address of their choice. J-1 students are asked to make a virtual appointment with an ISSS advisor to request the new document and signature.

 

Leave of Absence

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

In certain scenarios that may be possible. International students who need to remain in the US while taking a semester off would need to meet one of the few exceptions listed here:

Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations state that international students may be authorized to drop below a full course of study for the following reason:

  • Illness or medical condition;
    • COVID-19 pandemic alone is not a medical condition.  Only if you were infected would this option be available to you.
  • Initial difficulty with the English language (first semester only);
  • Initial difficulty with reading requirements (first semester only);
  • Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods (first semester only);
  • Improper course level placement;
  • Completing a course of study

To obtain authorization, the student must submit to ISSS a completed Part Time Authorization form via iTerp and upload the required relevant documentation. 

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 US.  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.

  • Most undergraduate students can take one semester off and return without re-applying for admission.  Please review the process at student success office .
  • Graduate students must seek permission and your department for an approved leave of absence.  Once this is approved, you must complete the F-1 exit form found on iTerp.
  • Please make an appointment with an international student advisor to discuss this process should you consider taking the semester off and remaining outside the US.

 

OPT Concerns

I am eligible to apply for OPT this semester, what do I need to do? (For new OPT applicants) 

  • ISSS will continue to offer virtual OPT I and exit workshops online. Please sign up online in iTerp.  You will receive a code by email to access a webinar.
  • ISSS is normally prohibited from sending I-20s electronically. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, SEVP has temporarily allowed schools to send copies of I-20s electronically, and USCIS will temporarily allow students to use those copies for their OPT applications. Once your OPT I-20 is created an electronic copy of your I-20 will be sent to you via e-mail. It is only a copy and is only to be used for the purpose of preparing your OPT application. Please print the I-20 and sign it in blue ink before including it in your application.
  • In order to file an OPT application students must be inside the US. (I-94 record required)
  • OPT applications process with USCIS, their website indicates some offices are closed or have temporarily changed hours, however these appear to be offices that conduct face to face meetings.  To our knowledge application processing at mail-in locations is still occurring.   We may see some processing delays but this is not confirmed at this time.
  • Regular OPT rules will apply once OPT is approved.   From the approved OPT start date, OPT rules allow for up to 90 days of unemployment time. 

What is the new OPT recommendation and application process, given the new remote environment? 

Recommending OPT: ISSS staff will continue to prepare OPT I-20’s as usual in  the iTerp portal. 

  • ISSS is normally prohibited from sending I-20s electronically. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, SEVP has temporarily allowed schools to send copies of I-20s electronically, and USCIS will temporarily allow students to use those copies for their OPT applications. 
  • Once OPT is approved, an electronic copy of your I-20 will be attached to your e-mail. It is only a copy and is only to be used for the purpose of preparing your OPT application. Please print the I-20 and sign it in blue ink before including it in your application.
  • You will still need to take steps to receive your original I-20. At this time all document pick-up from the ISSS office has been suspended due to COVID-19 precautions. You can elect to have the I-20 shipped to you now, or pick it up from the ISSS office at a later time when we reopen document pickup. You will be asked to complete the Mail/pick up my immigration documents. Please follow the steps below to specify your preferences.
  • You will receive information regarding signing up for OPT exit workshop.  This session helps you review your OPT packet.
  • Keep in mind your I-20 must reach USCIS within 30 days of the day ISSS recommended OPT.

Copying: To make the required copies for your document for your OPT application, consider these options:

  • Copy services are available in Office Stores (Office Depot, Staples, etc) and Shipping Stores (UPS, FedEx,)

Mailing: General mail services in the US are not currently expected to be interrupted.  You can use the services of shipping services from stores like those noted above, or any regular post office location.  

Graduates currently on OPT and the STEM OPT Extension 

  • I am currently OPT or STEM OPT Extension, has anything changed for me?
    • There are no changes in the existing rules related to OPT and the STEM OPT Extension. 
    • We encourage you to make sure you understand your employer’s options for sick leave, should you become ill.  Your employer should also be giving clear direction about remote work options, and expectations during the Coronavirus situation. Please document any office policies for remote work.  These do not need to be reported at this time, but should be kept for your own records should any questions arise regarding your employment. 
    • If you have travel (international or within the US) or conferences planned, please work with your employer to understand how to best manage these plans. As a nonimmigrant your ability to travel may be limited.

 

CPT Concerns

ISSS recommends students confirm with your summer employer that these offers are still valid given the current environment.

Once you are sure your internship will be honored this summer, visit the CPT webpage and complete steps one and two. Once all CPT documentation is gathered complete the next two steps

  • Log into iterp and upload all 4 pieces of required documentation to “Misc document upload” Found under “F-1 student services”
  • Make an appointment with an F-1 student advisor to discuss your application

During your appointment the ISSS student advisor will review your materials and if appropriate approve you CPT.

A new I-20 must be created with your CPT authorization. This I-20 can be mailed to you once you complete the mailing option in iterp.

 

Public Charge

Does the new Public Charge rule restrict access to testing, screen and treatment of COVID-19?

Recently USCIS updated rules regarding public charge.  Please be aware the new Public Charge rule does not restrict access to testing, screening or treatment of communicable diseases, including COVID-19.  The announcement can be found here

 

How do I reach an ISSS Advisor during this time?

ISSS Advisors are available through the following methods:

 

Additional UMD Resources