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COVID-19 FAQ for International Students & Scholars

Published: March 16, 2020

Updated at: November 10, 2020

"International students are vital and honored members of our learning community. You make William & Mary a stronger, more vibrant university." - Katherine A. Rowe, President

Below you will find updated FAQs on specific topics, but here are the key takeaways from the most recent Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and U.S. Department of State guidance for fall 2020:

  • Continuing international students in active F-1 and J-1 status may engage in 100 percent online coursework and still maintain their immigration status and remain in the U.S. Continuing students who chose to study remotely from outside the U.S. may do so and still maintain their immigration status.
  • New students in F-1 initial status who will arrive after the start of the start of the semester must have at least 1 credit in-person (or at least partially in-person) classes upon arrival in the U.S.
  • If W&M and VIMS must shift to all online instruction at some point during the fall semester due to public health reasons, all F-1 students holding active SEVIS status (including newly arrived students who have completed their Immigration Orientation and Check-in) will be able to maintain their immigration status.

Questions? Please contact globe@wm.edu

For non-immigration related information (e.g., housing, health and safety, courses, etc.) please refer to:

The Path Forward: Fall 2020

Spring Semester 2021 FAQ

Academics & Enrollment
faq for academics and enrollment
What is the process to request a leave of absence?

Please see Leave of Absence/Withdrawal and Re-Enrollment after Leave of Absence or Withdrawal for more information.

Please bear in mind that taking a leave of absence will affect your immigration status and may impact future CPT or OPT work authorization.

I am a continuing student and will be out of the country for more than 5 months. Will I be able to keep my immigration record active?

As long as continuing students enroll in a full course load and maintain their immigration status, we will continue to keep their immigration records active even if they will be out of the country for more than 5 months. This also applies to students who are studying abroad on a W&M approved program.

SEVIS transfer students beginning their in-person enrollment at W&M or VIMS for fall 2020 or spring 2021 should contact our office for specific guidance.

I will enroll remotely from abroad for fall 2020 or spring 2021. How might this impact my eligibility for CPT or OPT work authorizations?

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) are off-campus (e.g., not W&M or VIMS employment) work authorizations for F-1 international students.

CPT is used while the student is enrolled and OPT is usually used after the student graduates.

Current immigration regulations require an international student to be enrolled full-time for two consecutive semesters in F-1 status before they are eligible to apply for CPT or OPT.

  • Academic programs that require their students to complete an internship during their first year and thus will need CPT, may be exempted from this rule (such as the MAcc, MBA or Public Policy programs).
  • If you are a continuing F-1 student (i.e., have already begun your degree program at W&M), our office will keep your F-1 immigration active as long as you are enrolled full-time from abroad. SEVP has stated that F-1 continuing students who are currently abroad may be enrolled remotely and still maintain their immigration status.
  • If you are a new student, your F-1 status will not begin until you enter the U.S. and report (i.e., complete International Orientation and Immigration Check-in) to our office. Therefore, you cannot count your fall remote enrollment from abroad towards the two consecutive semesters enrollment requirement for CPT or OPT.

SEVP has not released guidance on whether a student entering the U.S. mid-semester would be considered as completing one academic semester in F-1 status. We will provide an update when we have more information.

Travel, Visa & Documents
faq for travel and visas
What documents do I need to enter the U.S. for fall 2020 or spring 2021?

F-1 (I-20) students, see a list of what you need to re-enter the U.S.
J-1 (DS-2019) students and scholars, see a list of what you need to re-enter the U.S.

If you are a new student abroad with an I-20/DS-2019 document and are a) able to secure a visa appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate and b) are planning to enter the US for fall 2020 or spring 2021, we ask that you follow these steps:

  • Request an updated I-20/DS-2019. So that we can provide you with the most up-to-date immigration document, please complete this request if you already have an F-1/J-1 visa or after you have secured a visa appointment. We will add remarks about William & Mary’s current instructional situation. A support letter will be included in the immigration document sent to you.
    • The Department of State (the agency that issues visas for entry into the U.S.) has indicated that new F-1 international students might not be able to receive visas if they are enrolled in 100% online coursework for fall 2020.
    • If you are a new F-1 student who has a visa appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate and will try to enter the U.S. for the fall, please make sure that you are enrolled in at least one course that has an in-person component.
    • Graduate students should work closely with their programs for course enrollment and support.
  • If you have an I-20, print this SEVP guidance, and bring it with you in your carry-on. You should be fine to enter the U.S using the I-20 that we email to you, but it’s always possible that some border agents may not be aware of the most current guidance. If you have any difficulty, you can show them pages 8-9 of this guidance, which explains that electronic I-20s are permitted during the pandemic.
    • J-1 students are required to receive a hard copy of the DS-2019.
  • Print your course registration for the fall 2020 and/or spring 2021 semester and bring it in your carry-on. It is a good idea to have this just in case the border agent asks you questions about your enrollment.

Students from Schengen, the U.K and Ireland

  • On July 22, the Department of State announced that students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and J-1 visas may enter the U.S.
  • Students with valid F-1 visas do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual national interest exception to travel.
  • Students with valid J-1 visas should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to ask for a national interest exception before traveling.
  • Print these Department of State and Customs and Border Patrol announcements and bring them with you in your carry-on along with the other required documents. It’s always possible that some border agents may not be aware of the most current guidance.
I am currently abroad or plan to leave the country. What travel and visa restrictions should I be aware of?

There are Presidential Proclamations that suspend entry into the U.S. of all aliens (immigrants, nonimmigrants, and other non U.S. citizens) who were physically present in China, Iran, the Schengen Area, UK and Ireland, and Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the U.S. Please see our Coronavirus Travel Bans webpage for more details.

Note: On July 22, the Department of State announced that students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and J-1 visas may enter the U.S. Please see above for documents that you will need to enter the U.S.

There are also restrictions for entry to the U.S. through land ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada and U.S. Mexico. Entry through land ports is allowed for “essential travel” only. Please see our Coronavirus Travel Bans webpage for more details.

It is impossible to predict if and when further restrictions will be put in place by the U.S. administration. Travel warnings and alerts are quite fluid; therefore, please continue to reference these webpages:

If your F-1 or J-1 visa has expired and you are abroad, you will need to apply for a new visa to re-enter the U.S. However, routine visa services have not resumed at most U.S. Embassies and Consulates due to the pandemic. Some embassies are allowing applicants to schedule visa appointments on a limited basis. Please check embassy websites for the most up-to-date information.

I need to apply for a F-1/J-1 student visa. What documents will I need?

Please refer to the following resources:
F-1 student visa (with an I-20)
J-1 student or scholar visa (with a DS-2019)

Routine visa services are still suspended at most U.S. embassies, however, some embassies are allowing applicants to schedule visa appointments on a limited basis. Please check embassy websites for the most up-to-date information.

The Department of State (the agency that issues visas for entry into the U.S.) has indicated that new F-1 international students might not be able to receive visas if they are enrolled in all online courses for fall 2020.

If you have a visa appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate, and will try to enter the U.S. for the fall, please make sure that you are enrolled in at least one course that has an in-person component. Graduate students should work closely with their programs for course enrollment.

Please see the section above on documents needed to enter the U.S. for additional information.

I am a new student and have already paid the SEVIS fee. However, I have not been able to schedule a visa appointment. Would I be able to use the SEVIS fee payment at a later date?

The SEVIS fee payment is valid for 12 months and thus, you should be able to use the SEVIS fee payment at a later date. Be sure to keep your payment receipt in a safe place. If you defer your enrollment to the spring or to next fall, we will defer the program start date on your I-20/DS-2019 and will send you an updated document. You may only apply for a visa up to 120 days before the start date of your I-20/DS-2019.

I am a new student and I would like to join W&M in-person. Can I join W&M mid-semester?

Our office will do all we can to support your entry into the U.S., even if it is mid-semester.

Please see the section above on documents needed to enter the U.S. for additional information.

New students in F-1 Initial status who will arrive after the start of the semester must have at least 1 credit in-person (or at least partially in-person) classes upon arrival in the U.S.

New graduate students should inform their graduate programs and our office about their mid-semester arrival. If you are interested in on-campus housing at the Graduate Complex, please contact Residence Life. If there is space, Residence Life can often accommodate late arrivals.

All new F-1 and J-1 internationals students are required to complete virtual International Orientation requirements upon arrival to the U.S.

What will be the testing and qurantine protocals for returning international students?
  • In addition to testing, all students coming from international destinations are required to self-quarantine until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.
  • More information about testing prior to and during the spring semester is forthcoming.
The visa in my passport is expiring soon/has expired. What should I do?

The student visa is only an entry document and thus, you may stay in the U.S. on an expired F-1 or J-1 visa as long as you maintain your immigration status by being in possession of a valid I-20 or DS-2019 and by meeting normal enrollment requirements. Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter the U.S.

If you have left the U.S. and your F-1 or J-1 visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new one to re-enter the U.S. Routine visa services have not resumed at many U.S. Embassies and Consulates, however, some embassies are allowing applicants to schedule visa appointments on a limited basis.

F-1 (I-20) students, see a list of what you need to apply for an F-1 visa.
J-1 (DS-2019) students and scholars, see a list of what you need to apply for a J-1 visa.

I have applied for OPT or am on OPT. Can I travel abroad?

Please refer to Traveling while on OPT for more information.

Where can I find information about travel restrictions to different countries?
The following sites have COVID-19 country specific information:
New Students: Pre-Arrival Resources & International Orientation
faq for new students
Where can I find information about traveling to W&M, packing checklists, etc.?

Please refer to our New International Students webpages.

All new F-1 and J-1 international students in the U.S. are required to complete International Orientation. When will orientation be held?

Only new international students who will be in the U.S. are required to complete International Orientation requirements. All required sessions will be offered virtually, and we will work with students to help them complete the requirements.

Students who choose to begin their fall enrollment remotely or deferred their enrollment to the spring or next fall, will complete International Orientation before the spring or next fall semester begins.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)
faq for optional practical training
I would like to apply for OPT or OPT STEM Extension. Can I do this remotely from elsewhere in the U.S.? Can I do it from outside the U.S.?

Immigration regulations require that you be physically in the U.S. at the time you submit your Optional Practical Training (OPT) or OPT STEM Extension application. This regulation remains as we have not yet received updated guidance from USCIS.

We have created a detailed PPT slide and application packet to explain the OPT application process. OPT appointments will be done through email and phone.

Visit our applying for OPT website to access OPT information and application instructions.

I am on OPT/OPT STEM Extension and am now working remotely. Do I need to update SEVP or W&M with my remote work address?

SEVP has confirmed that students and schools do not not need to update the employer address information in SEVIS nor on the Form I-983 for students working remotely.

When I applied for my OPT, I listed the Reves Center as the mailing address. Where should I have my OPT card sent now?

If you have another address in the U.S. where you can have it sent, please do. This can be either an address where you are staying, or an address of a friend of relative. To change your OPT mailing address, you will need your receipt number (it most likely begins with YSC). If you are not sure what it is, please let us know. You can change your OPT mailing address here.

If you do not have another address, you can leave your OPT mailing address at the Reves Center. Just be aware that because staff is working remotely, it will take longer for us to mail your OPT card to you once we receive it.

I am on OPT but I am working less than 20 hours a week due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Can I still count those hours as OPT related 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.

Other Related Employment Questions (on-campus, CPT, SSN, etc.)
faq for other employment options
Can I work remotely (working from abroad or in a different state) if I have a W&M or VIMS job?

Payroll has issued guidance that international students and scholars are not allowed to work remotely from abroad and be on W&M or VIMS Payroll. If you are a graduate student with a teaching or graduate assistantship, please contact your department for possible options.

An international student or scholar may work remotely from a different U.S. state and stay on W&M or VIMS Payroll. However, the hiring department must submit the Out of State Employee Approval Form prior to the start date. Due to time needed to research the request and potentially register in a new state, policy requires the form be submitted 60 days prior to the requested start date. Please contact Simonne Vance at Payroll if you have questions.

Can students with proper authorization participate in curricular practical training (CPT) while they are abroad?

SEVP' spring and summer guidance allows student to engage in CPT during their time abroad, as long as:

  • The student has applied for and received CPT authorization before beginning work
  • Either the employer has an office outside the U.S. or the employer can assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives electronically.

However, each company and state will have its own employment rules. Please consult with the hiring company before accepting the job offer.

I am facing financial difficulties due to COVID-19. Am I eligible to apply for the Economic Hardship Work Authorization?

The F-1 Economic Hardship Work Authorization is a type of work authorization granted by USCIS for severe economic need. Please see Economic Hardship Work Authorization for information about eligibility and the application process.

I have a job offer. How do I apply for an SSN or complete the I-9?

Please refer to the following resources:

If you do not already have an SSN, unfortunately at this time, it is not possible to apply for one while abroad.

I took a leave of absence. How will this affect my immigration status, and future CPT or OPT work authorization?

Taking a leave of absence will affect your immigration status and may impact future CPT or OPT work authorization. Please refer to the following resources:
Leave of Absence/Withdrawal
Re-Enrollment after Leave of Absence or Withdrawal

Post-graduation
faq for post-graduation
What are my options after graduation?

You have four options:

  1. Remain in the U.S. and apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) (for F-1 students). Immigration regulations require that you be physically in the U.S. at the time you submit your OPT application.
  2. Remain in the U.S. during the grace period after your program end date (which you can find on your I-20 or DS-2019). The grace period is 60 days for F-1 students and 30 days for J-1 students.
    • SEVP is aware that some students may find it difficult to leave the U.S. during the COVID-19 emergency because of diminished travel options. However, they have not indicated any plans to extend the grace period at this point. We will provide more information on this matter as it becomes available.
    • If you have difficulties leaving the U.S. due to travel restrictions or limited flights, please consider contacting your embassy for assistance.
    • Keep good documentation of your efforts to leave the U.S. within the grace period. For example, keep records of the conversations you had with your embassy and airline companies.
  3. Pursue another degree in the U.S. and transfer (if eligible) your SEVIS record to another institution. See F-1 Transfer. If eligible, we can transfer your SEVIS record while you are out of the country.
  4. File for a change of status to another immigration category before the end of your grace period. In general, changing status while staying in the U.S. is complicated. If you are interested in pursuing this option, we recommend that you consult with an immigration attorney. Please contact our office if you would like recommendations for attorneys.