COVID-19 FAQ for International Students & Scholars

Updated at: May 26, 2020

Dear students and scholars,

William & Mary and all of us at the Reves Center are committed to supporting you during this global health crisis. These are truly challenging and uncertain times. What has not changed is our deep care and commitment to our international community.

Remember that we are in this together—we are here for you.​

​We wish you and your families all the best.

Sincerely,

International Students, Scholars and Programs Staff


All Reves staff are teleworking and we will continue to provide support and services via email, phone, video conferences, and postal/express mail. You can still submit requests via iStart; however, processing of requests might be slower because staff is teleworking.

Please continue to check this website, your W&M email, follow messages from the EMT, and refer to the W&M COVID-19 Responses website for the most up-to-date information.

Academics & Enrollment
faq re academics and enrollment
How does switching to remote instruction affect my immigration status?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is allowing F-1 and J-1 international students to temporarily engage in distance-learning, either from within the U.S. or outside the country without jeopardizing their immigration statuses. Please note that this is a temporary accommodation by the U.S. government until this health crisis passes and in-person classes resume.

Can I ask for an I-20/DS-2019 extension due to COVID-19?

SEVP has not changed its criteria for granting I-20/DS-2019 extensions for students. We will provide more information on this matter as it becomes available.

I am considering taking a leave of absence from W&M. What is the process?

Please refer to the following resources:
Leave of Absence/Withdrawal
Re-Enrollment after Leave of Absence or Withdrawal

Travel & Visas
faq for travel and visas
I don’t know if I should return to my home country or remain in the U.S. I am afraid it will affect my immigration status. What should I do?

The decision about whether to return to your home country is a personal one and should be considered carefully, in consultation with family when possible. The university wants you to be where you will feel most comfortable in the coming weeks and months.

SEVP has confirmed that international students may temporarily take their classes online during W&M’s period of modified instructional format, either from within the U.S. or aboard without impacting their immigration status. International students are still required to maintain a full course load during this temporary transition to online instruction.

Travel warnings and alerts are quite fluid; if you are planning to travel, please continue to reference these webpages:

It is also impossible to predict future travel restrictions and health and safety issues that might prevent students from returning to campus. We will provide updates to students in a timely manner and support you to the best of our ability.

If you decide to travel to your home country but still need a travel signature, you may request a reprint of your I-20/DS-2019, and we will mail or email it to you either in the U.S. or to your home country. Travel signatures are valid for one year, so please check your current document before requesting a new one. 

I am planning to leave the U.S. or have already left. Do I need to get a travel signature? What other documents do I need to re-enter the U.S.?

Travel signatures are valid for one year (6 months for those on OPT). Therefore, you do not need to get a new signature if yours will be valid for a while. You also do not need a valid travel signature to leave the U.S. If you are out of the country and need a new travel signature before you return to the U.S., you can always contact our office to email or mail you an updated I-20 or DS-2019.

SEVP has announced that schools can send scanned versions or electronically signed I-20s to students.

However, at this point, staff are teleworking and it is challenging for us to sign, print and mail documents. Because of this, we ask that you wait to get a travel signature until you know you will be returning to the U.S. We ask that you submit your request at least 3 weeks before you plan to re-enter the U.S.

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.

Please remember that there might be travel restrictions now or in the future that might prevent you from re-entering the U.S. It is also impossible to predict future health and safety issues that might prevent students from returning to campus.

The visa in my passport is expiring soon/has expired. What should I do?

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 are currently suspended at all 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.

What happens if I leave the U.S. and I am not able to return to the U.S. within five months? Will my SEVIS record remain active?

SEVP has confirmed that international students may temporarily take their classes online during W&M’s period of modified instructional format, either from within the U.S. or aboard without impacting their immigration status. International students are still required to maintain a full course load during this temporary transition to online instruction.

W&M will keep the SEVIS records of those who remain enrolled full-time in active status. SEVP has confirmed that since the SEVIS record will remain active, “the 5-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 C.F. R.214.2(f)(4) will not apply.”

If I leave the country, would I be able to return to the U.S. and to campus?

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.

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; if you are planning to travel, please continue to reference these webpages:

It is also impossible to predict future health and safety issues that might prevent students from returning to campus.

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 U.S. Department of State has COVID-19 country specific information. The World Food Programme has developed a guide to travel restrictions around the globe. Airlines also keep track of travel regulations and are often knowledgeable of travel restrictions.

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
Since campus offices are closed, can I engage in remote work for on-campus employment?

SEVP has confirmed that if the current on-campus employment opportunity has transitioned to remote work or the employment can be done through remote means, students may engage in on-campus employment remotely. If asked, the employer should be able to explain how the students are providing services associated with the employment while not at the location of the employer.

I already have a job for the summer or am hoping to find a job for the summer. Do I need work authorization?

Your status (e.g., current student or graduated student) and type of employment (e.g., paid or unpaid, etc.) will determine whether you will need work authorization. See F-1 student employment or J-1 student employment for more information.

Can students with proper authorization participate in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) while they are abroad?

SEVP has confirmed that students may engage in CPT during their time abroad.

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?

Many local offices might be closed due to COVID-19, however, government offices are also temporarily amending regulations in response to the pandemic. Please refer to the following resources:

Post-graduation
faq for post-graduation
I graduated in May 2020. 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) or Academic Training (AT) (for J-1 students). Immigration regulations require that you be physically in the U.S. at the time you submit your OPT or AT 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. (Note: 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).
  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.