UMD: A Globally Connected University

Student FAQ During COVID-19

Student FAQ During COVID-19

Last Updated 6/17/2020

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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.

Until we receive confirmation from SEVP (immigration) that our fall plans are acceptable for maintenance of F1/J1 status we are not able to provide definitive guidance. 

Enrollment Requirements

What will immigration allow for F-1/J-1 students in Fall 2020?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has not yet issued guidance to international students and schools for the fall semester. As soon as SEVP finalizes guidance for the fall term, the academic community will be informed and we will update this website.

What about for Fall semester, can I engage in all online classes?

As we look ahead to next semester, please enroll in desired coursework as usual, following regular F-1 rules.  We must know what SEVP will permit for Fall 2020 before we can post definitive answers.  We expect similar adaptations that were permitted for spring that allowed current students the flexibility to enroll in online courses and maintain status.

 

Leave of Absence

I am a current student and am considering taking a leave of absence for Fall semester 2020. What immigration issues do I need to consider?

Students not planning to register for Fall 2020 should be prepared to depart the United States. F-1/J-1 students are not permitted to remain in the US during a leave of absence (LOA).

If your LOA is approved by UG 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 5 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 US 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 4 terms for a student participating in a 12 week term program).

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.

 

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.

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

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 travelled to, and where you are travelling from.

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.

  • Any international 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.
  • 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. 

Returning to the US for Fall 2020 may not be possible if you depart the US

Currently foreign nationals who have been in any of the following countries during the past 14 days may not enter the United States. (View details on Travel-Related Proclamations Affecting Entry from Certain Countries)

  • 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
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Brazil

Please visit the CDC site that lists travelers prohibited from entry to the US. 

In addition any individual returning from international travel is to self isolate for 14 days.
The CDC website reviews the steps to follow after returning from travel abroad.  These include not returning to campus or work, avoiding public transportation and taking your temperature daily. 

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 .   

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.

What should I do if I am completing my program and regulations require me to return home within 60 days (F1) or 30 days (J1) after completing my program of study, but my travel plans are complicated by a lack of commercially available flights or my country doesn’t permit me to enter?

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

 

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.

I am on OPT and my job is being affected. Do I qualify for any of the benefits outlined in the President's stimulus package?

This is a complicated question and depends on many factors.  Each state will have their own rules about who will qualify for Unemployment Insurance (UI).  You will want to consult the specific requirements of their state you are working in to confirm eligibility for UI benefits.

The question of public charge is also of concern to students.  The following article addresses some of these questions and will prove helpful as you navigate these complicated questions. 

Here are a few important highlights of the article.

Ogletree Deakins posted an update about the CARES Act that states:

For the purposes of a public charge analysis, UI benefits are not considered “unearned” benefits and should not impact a foreign national’s ability to extend his or her nonimmigrant status (including work authorized status such as H-1B, L-1, TN, E-3, and related dependent status) in the United States and/or adjust status to lawful permanent residence (“green card” holder).  

That appears to be confirmed by USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 8, Part G, Chapter 10, Part B(1), which states "unemployment benefits" would not be considered a public charge.

As for whether an international student would be eligible for Maryland unemployment insurance benefits, the answer appears to be that they would. Maryland Labor & Employment Code § 8–905 (2) allows those who are "lawfully... present in the United States to perform the covered employment" to apply for UI benefits. As an F-1, a student who is authorized to perform employment appears they should be eligible to apply for UI benefits. 

Students who work for the University (GAs, TAs, etc.) are likely not eligible. MD Labor & Employment Code § 8–220 does not consider students working for an educational institution as "covered employment" that is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. 

    (b)    Employment performed in an educational institution is not covered employment if:             (1)    the employment is performed by a student who is enrolled and regularly attending classes at that educational institution

I was working over 20 hours on OPT but my hours have been cut to fewer than 20 hours. Am I considered employed for OPT reporting purposes?

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.

 

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.

 

On-Campus Employment

My on-campus job/assistantship is now being conducted remotely while the campus is closed. Can current F1 and J1 students engage in remote work for on-campus employment?

If the current on-campus employment opportunity has transitioned to remote work or the employment can be done through remote means, students may continue to engage in on-campus employment remotely. It is assumed the student remains in the US during this remote work period.

 

Receiving I-20/DS-2019

I heard ISSS can now send me electronic copies of my I-20 or DS-2019 instead of physically mailing the forms, is this true?

In some cases , Yes. Due to COVID-19, DSOs may electronically send Forms I-20 to student email addresses listed in SEVIS. However, where this copy can be used is important to consider. Only USCIS (the agency that processes immigration applications such as OPT. STEM OPT, etc) is accepting I-20 copies. Agencies such as embassies,consulates, social security, DMV and the port of entry have not issued guidance that they are willing to accept copies of the I-20. No expectations have been permitted for copies of the DS2019 to be sent to students.

What methods can DSOs use to sign and send Forms I-20?

SEVP has identified the following methods to sign and send the Form I-20:

  • Email a scanned version of the physically signed Form I-20;
  • Email a digitally signed Form I-20 using electronic signature software; or
  • Email a digitally signed Form I-20 that contains a digitally reproduced copy of a physical signature."

"Only approved principal designated school officials (PDSOs) and DSOs may physically sign or input their own digital signature to the Form I-20."

 

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

 

Taxes/Stimulus Tax Credit

Do I qualify for the Stimulus tax credit?

The Stimulus Tax credit credit is based on several factors. For F1 and J1 students the most important factor to consider is your status for US tax purposes based on the substantial presence test. That test determines if you are non resident or resident for tax purposes. In addition to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents, the CARES Act appears to provide the credit to those who are residents for U.S. tax purposes, based on the substantial presence test. Additionally, the residents must have a valid social security number. Married couples where one has an SSN and one spouse has an ITIN or no number appear to be ineligible when filing U.S. taxes jointly. Thanks to tax attorneys Kostelanetz & Fink for their summary of the act for easy referencing to the actual bill.

What is the definition of Nonresident Alien?

In the CARES act it is believed that the use of the verbiage "nonresident alien" is from the U.S. Tax Code. An alien is any individual who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national. A nonresident alien is an alien who has not passed the green card test or the substantial presence test. Please use the link to the IRS.gov website to learn more about the substantial presence test.

I think I filed my taxes incorrectly and received the stimulus tax credit in error. I’m not a resident alien for tax purposes.

In the CARES act it is believed that the use of the verbiage "nonresident alien" is from the U.S. Tax Code. An alien is any individual who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national. A nonresident alien is an alien who has not passed the green card test or the substantial presence test. Please use the link to the IRS.gov website to learn more about the substantial presence test.  Students who incorrectly filed their tax returns and received stimulus funds but are NRAs can turn to Terp Tax for help. Email Erica Tang (ericatang8@gmail.com) for assistance.

What if I received a stimulus check and I am not a resident alien for tax purposes:

The nonresident alien should not spend the erroneously received stimulus payment. You should make plans to Return the Stimulus Payment:

  • To return the payment, we suggest that the individual follow the same guidelines provided by the IRS for when an incorrect federal tax refund is received, which are based on how the erroneous refund was received:
  • Paper check that has not yet been cashed/deposited;
  • Paper check that has already be cashed/deposited; or
  • Direct deposit made to the nonresident alien’s U.S. bank account.

For detailed information about how to return the incorrectly received stimulus payment to the IRS for each of the situations above, please see https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc161.

It is important to note that if the nonresident alien does not immediately return the erroneously received stimulus payment, he or she may be subject to interest accrued until the payment is returned. Also, until such time as the incorrectly filed federal income tax return is amended to submit the correct federal income tax return, the nonresident alien is subject to a filing penalty and/or loss of any otherwise applicable deductions or allowances, including income tax treaty exemptions.

The Congressional Research Service, which provides analysis of legislation and issues for Congress and the public, has just issued this report: Noncitizens and Eligibility for the 2020 Recovery Rebates.

 

How do I reach an ISSS Advisor during this time?

ISSS Advisors are available through the following methods:

 

Additional UMD Resources