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COVID-19 FAQ for International Students & Scholars

Published: March 16, 2020

Updated at: September 14, 2021

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

April 26, 2021: The Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) announced that they will extend the guidance originally issued in March 2020 for the 2021-2022 academic year. See the published FAQs for SEVP Stakeholders for more detailed information. Note that there are no changes to the original guidance, though the FAQ have been edited to reflect their continuation through academic year 2021–2022.

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

W&M's Path Forward

W&M's COVID-19 Response

Academics & Enrollment
faq for academics and enrollment
I am a continuing student with an active I-20/DS-2019 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 with active F-1/J-1 status (i.e., have enrolled in-person at the university previously), 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.

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

I will be entering the U.S. for the first time to join the university for the 2021-2022 academic year. Eventhough I will be on campus, do I have the option to enroll in all remote courses?

William & Mary plans to be at full capacity for in-person teaching and learning. Moreover, F-1 and J-1 students entering the U.S. for the first time for the 2021-2022 academic year may not be enrolled fully online and must have an in-person component to their instruction.

If W&M and VIMS must shift to all online instruction at some point during the year due to public health reasons, all F-1 and J-1 students in the U.S. would be able to continue their enrollment and remain in the U.S.

Will enrolling remotely from abroad 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 and have an active SEVIS record), 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 remote enrollment from abroad towards the two consecutive semesters enrollment requirement for CPT or OPT.

SEVP has not released guidance on whether a new 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. as a student?

Travel options and restrictions continue to be very fluid; therefore, be sure to check the most updated information before your planned travel.

Returning students and scholars:
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 admitted for Spring 2022, you will receive an email from our online system iStart to request your I-20/DS-2019 document.

If you are a student who have begun your enrollment remotely from abroad with an I-20/DS-2019 document, please submit a request for an updated I-20/DS-2019. You will not need a travel signature for the first entry into the U.S. as a W&M or VIMS student.

For all students:

  • 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. 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 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.
  • Negative COVID-19 Test Result: An order by  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires proof of a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 for all air passengers arriving from a foreign country. See CDC Frequently Asked Questions for more information.

Some countries still have restricted travel to the U.S.:

I am currently abroad or plan to leave the country. What travel and visa restrictions should I be aware of?

Some countries still have restricted travel to the U.S.:

  • If you travelled (including layover) and have been in these countries in the past 14 days before entering the U.S., you might not be eligible to return to the U.S.
  • Please see the section above on documents needed to enter the U.S. for Travel Exceptions.

There are also restrictions for entry to the U.S. through land ports of entry with Canada and Mexico. Entry through land ports is allowed for “essential travel” only.

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 you do not have a valid F-1 or J-1 visa, you will need to apply for one at a U.S. Embassy or consulate to enter the U.S. However, most embassies and consulates are only offering limited visa appointments. If you need an earlier visa appointment to facilitate your arrival at the beginning of the semester, you can try to submit a request for an expedited visa appointment. Please check embassy websites for the most up-to-date information.

I need to apply for a F-1/J-1 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. If you need an earlier visa appointment to facilitate your arrival at the beginning of the semester, you can try to submit a request for an expedited visa appointment. Please check embassy websites for the most up-to-date information.

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

I have already paid the SEVIS fee, however, I have not been able to schedule a visa appointment. Would I be able to use the 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, we will defer the program start date on your I-20/DS-2019 and will send you an updated document when you are able to schedule a visa appointment. You may only apply for a visa up to 120 days before the start date of your I-20/DS-2019.

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. Bermudan and 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.

What are the university's policies on COVID-19 vaccinations and quarantines?

Please see COVID-19 vaccinations.

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 Student Orientation requirements. All required sessions will be offered virtually, and we will work with students to help them complete the requirements. There will be no in-person requirement for International Student Orientation, however, there will be optional in-person activities to help students settle in such as help with opening bank accounts, shopping trips, etc.

Students who choose to begin their enrollment remotely or deferred their enrollment, will complete International Orientation during the semester that they are able to join W&M or VIMS in-person.

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 phone or Zoom.

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.

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?

International students and scholars must secure approval from W&M before they can work outside the U.S. Please see Out of State Hiring for more information.

If you are a graduate student with a teaching or graduate assistantship, please contact your department for possible options.

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

Current SEVP 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 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.
    • 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.