UMD: A Globally Connected University

Student FAQ During COVID-19

Student FAQ During COVID-19

Last Updated 10/9/2020

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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. 

 

Fall 2020 SEVP Guidance

The U.S. government has agreed to rescind the policy directive and FAQs released July 6-7, 2020, regarding Fall 2020 international enrollment in U.S. institutions of higher education. 

Government guidance will return to the previous status quo established by the policy directive and addendum issued on March 9 and 13, respectively. 

The University of Maryland stands with international students and scholars, and we are thrilled to see the needs of this vital community prevail over the July 6th policy.

Where can I find the FAQs from Homeland Security (SEVP) regarding the Fall 2020 guidance?

 

Maintaining F-1 Status for Fall 2020

Can I be enrolled in all online courses?

Yes, SEVP will allow active F students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study in excess of the limits stated in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G), even if they have left the U.S. and are taking the online classes elsewhere. This temporary provision is only in effect due to COVID-19.

Do I need to be enrolled full time for Fall 2020?

Yes, all students who wish to maintain their F-1 status during the Fall 2020 semester must meet full time registration requirements. This is 48 units for graduate students, 12 credits for undergraduate and 36 units for students in the 12-week term. 

Students in their last semester who need fewer credits to reach graduation requirements can seek an exception to the full-time credit requirement. Students must file the part-time permission form on iTerp prior to the start of the fall semester.

Will any notation be necessary on my I-20 indicating I’m taking an in person course or I’m fully online?

For current students who are enrolled for Fall 2020 and taking classes inside of the U.S. a notation is not required on the  student’s SEVIS record.  
 
For current students who are enrolled for Fall 2020 and taking classes outside of the U.S. a notation is required on the student's SEVIS record.  
 
All students should complete the iTerp eform, Current Student Enrollment Intent to inform ISSS of your Fall 2020 enrollment plans by August 15th.

If I start a course in person now, can I move to a fully online later in the semester?   

Yes, the Fall 2020 guidance allows for any course delivery method. UMD is offering face-to-face, blended or online courses for Fall 2020. Any combination of these methods is possible and adjusting these delivery methods is possible as you move through the semester.  

Can a student drop a course due to dissatisfaction with online courses not providing the same level of instruction?

It depends on the number of courses in which you are currently enrolled. You must maintain your full-time status throughout the Fall 2020 semester. 

 

Leave of Absence

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

Students not planning to register for Fall 2020 should be prepared to depart the U.S. F-1/J-1 students 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 drop all my classes and stay in the U.S., is that possible?

In certain scenarios it may be possible, however it is rare. 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. 

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.

 

Travel

What is the University's COVID protocol for individuals entering the US

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 training and signing a pledge.

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. 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.
 

If I go home for the Fall 2020 term, can I come back to UMD for Spring 2021?

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.

It is very important for you to review the validity of your F-1/J-1 visa. Although we are seeing the resumption of visa operations, many U.S. consulates abroad have been closed for several months. Students from China and India should anticipate a backlog of appointments. Check the website of the embassy or consulate for its current operating status: usembassy.gov.

What are other issues I must consider before returning to the U.S.?

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

European Schengen area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, are still  part of the travel proclamations,  but on July 16, 2020 Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 visas, do not need to seek a national interest exception to travel.  This means that with your valid F-1 visa and I-20 you should be able to travel.  ISSS encourages you to read this announcement and carry it with you when you travel. Students from those areas who are traveling on a J-1 may contact the nearest embassy or consulate to initiate an exception request.   

 

I am from one of the five geographic locations that are restricted from applying for a visa or traveling directly into the U.S.  I heard this restriction is lifted.

No, the restriction remains as evidenced from this FAQ.

However, information has been shared that it appears that students and scholars can be considered for national interest exceptions. This could allow students  from the restricted regions to request this exception and apply for a visa or have permission to travel.

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.?

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 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).

What should I do if I am completing my program and regulations require me to return home within 60 days (F-1) or 30 days (J-1) 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 plan to take all online courses for my final semester in the Fall. Will I still be eligible for OPT after I graduate?

Yes, a student who has successfully maintained their F-1 status and completed a degree program after at least two academic semesters in their program of study would be eligible to apply for OPT. However, OPT applications are only accepted from within the United States, so a student must be currently in the United States in order to submit an application.

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 through the iTerp portal. 

Receiving the I-20: ISSS advisors will prepare your OPT I-20 recommendation and it will be sent to you electronically. During COVID this electronic copy can be used for your application.

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

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 the 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.

I am currently on post completion OPT/STEM OPT Extension. During COVID-19 pandemic, can I work for my employer from outside the United States?

In July 15th FAQ, ICE issued the following guidance: “Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely if their employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means. Students participating in STEM OPT do not need to submit an updated Form I-983 to report remote work. However, requirements to submit an updated Form I-983 for other changes remain in effect.”

 

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.

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 F-1 and J-1 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 U.S. 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?

Yes, due to COVID-19, DSOs may electronically send Forms I-20s to student email addresses listed in SEVIS. 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.

No expectations have been permitted for copies of the DS-2019 to be sent to students electronically.

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

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

"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, screening 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 is based on several factors. For F-1 and J-1 students the most important factor to consider is your status for U.S. tax purposes based on the substantial presence test. That test determines if you are a nonresident 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 spouse 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:

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