Frequently Asked Questions for International Students on F-1 and J-1 Visas Re: COVID-19

Updated August 9, 2020

1. I am currently in the U.S. but was planning to travel outside of the U.S. soon. Should I travel?

Given the fluidity of the current situation, we are unable to advise one way or the other about international travel. This is a decision you will need to make keeping in mind all available information.

Even if your destination does not have any travel restrictions at this time, we cannot guarantee that the situation will remain the same at the time of your travel, as many countries are imposing travel restrictions in order to contain the virus. International students should also be aware of U.S. government-imposed travel restrictions if you consider travel outside the United States, and you may face difficulties when trying to re-enter the U.S., including being denied entry.

However, we understand that international students may want to return home to be with their families. As long as you have weighed the risks and then made your decision, please know that the OIS will continue to support you. Your status will remain active while you are utilizing the university’s remote instruction plan and otherwise remain compliant with applicable regulations. Should you choose to travel, make sure you have a valid travel signature or have requested a new one.

2. As an international student can I take online classes until and still remain in legal status?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance from July 6, 2020 has been rescinded (July 14, 2020) and will no longer take effect. F-1 students are expected to follow the guidance issued in March 2020. On July 24, 2020, the  SEVP issued a broadcast message and clarification on its March guidance and also updated ICE FAQs (updated on July 15, 2020). According to this updated guidance, students who were actively enrolled at Rutgers as of March 9, 2020, and were maintaining active SEVIS status, whether from inside the US or abroad, can continue to stay in active SEVIS status and enroll in 100% online coursework or any combination or in-person and online study, as needed, to make normal progress toward their degree for the fall 2020 semester. They must follow all other rules to maintain their legal status.

Continuing/returning international students can enroll in the fall 2020 semester either abroad or in the U.S., and maintain their legal status, as long as they continue to remain enrolled in a full course of study and make normal progress towards their degree (unless they qualify for a reduced credit/course load based on permissible exceptions).  SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) has also confirmed that if all your courses cannot be delivered online the full-time requirement can be waived as a direct result of the impact of the COVID crisis.

New international students with an initial SEVIS I-20 may enter the United States to study if the student’s schedule is not 100% online. Students with I-20 marked “initial attendance” taking at least one in person class may study in the United States.

New international students outside of the US may take classes 100% online while they remain outside of the US.  International students do not need an F-1/J-1 visa or legal status in the US to begin their programs from overseas. Their legal status will be activated when they come to the US in a future semester.

New international students in the US (transferring their SEVIS record to Rutgers or changing status to F-1/J-1 for the fall) may take classes 100% online and maintain their legal F-1/J-1 status.

3. The Provost announced an option to take my courses pass/no credit for the spring 2020 semester. Is this an option for international students?

Yes, international students in F-1 and J-1 status may opt to:

     1.) receive the earned letter grade for a final grade, OR

     2.) opt to use the Pass/No Credit option in lieu of the earned grade.

  • The Pass/No Credit option is available to students on a course-by-course basis. It does not need to be selected for all courses in the semester. (Sponsored students should check with their government or sponsoring institution about taking this option.) For more information, students should consult with their academic advisors or graduate departments.

4. If I leave the U.S. now and stay out of the country for more than 5 months, will this be a problem for my immigration status? What happens to my SEVIS record and my I-20/DS-2019?

Based on current guidance from the government, students who leave the country but remain enrolled full-time and make normal progress towards their program by participating in modified modes of instruction (as offered by the university) will be considered to be in active SEVIS status. They will also be eligible for the summer vacation after the end of the spring term. In this case students could potentially leave any time during the spring semester and return any time before the start of classes in the fall term and their SEVIS records would remain active.

This applies to continuing students only – that is students enrolled in the spring and expected to enroll in the fall term. If students withdraw from their programs in the spring term, the usual five-month rule would apply to their SEVIS status.

5. I am an F-1/J-1 student studying on-campus at Rutgers and in my final semester of study at Rutgers. What are my options at this time?

Employment authorization

F-1 students have a 60-day grace period. Within this 60-day period F-1 students may apply for: Optional Practical Training (OPT). F-1 students can apply for post-completion OPT, which grants them employment authorization and an extension of status for 12 months (per advancing degree level) after the completion of their program.

This authorization can be extended by another 24 months for students in approved STEM fields, based on certain eligibility criteria. The application is filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and involves a $410.00 filing fee. It provides employment authorization as well as extension of a student’s legal status. Students must apply for post-completion OPT no sooner than 90 days prior to their program end date and up to 60 days after their program end date. Please check your Form I-20 for your program dates.

J-1 students have a 30 day grace period. Within this 30 day grace period, you may apply for Academic Training. and work in the U.S. after completion of their program. Academic Training is authorized for a specific job and may also be processed through our office. Legal application deadlines must be adhered to.

Continue your education

F-1 students have the option to start a new degree program at RU-C or another institution. If you will begin a new degree program at another school soon (not RU-C) you must contact your OIS advisor to coordinate the transfer of your SEVIS record. F-1 students must submit their request before the end of the 60-day grace period. J-1 Students should coordinate your transfer with your current program sponsor before the end of your academic program.

If you are completing a Rutgers Bachelor’s degree and have accepted an offer to begin graduate studies (Master’s, Doctoral) at RU-C, work with your OIS advisor to change your degree level on your SEVIS record.

If you are interested in continuing your studies, consider applying to Rutgers-Camden. The application fee has been waived for graduate admission and there are graduate scholarships and assistantships available to international students.

Grace Period and Travel

If you do not apply for OPT or academic training, F-1 students (60 days) and J-1 students (30 days) to depart the US.

6. Can I leave the U.S. and go home after I mail my OPT application to USCIS? Will I be allowed to re-enter the U.S. to start working once my application is approved?

Yes, you can leave the U.S. when an OPT application is pending at USCIS, but there has always been an element of uncertainty. The basic risk factor is that if you receive correspondence from USCIS in the mail, you would not be there to respond. That has always been true and in these extraordinary times it remains to be true.

In the best case scenario, if your application goes through smoothly, your EAD is delivered to a valid U.S. address, and someone arranges for your EAD to be sent to you (if you used OIS address as your mailing address, we will email you once it arrives and arrange mailing with you), and you may be able to enter the U.S. with your travel documents.

7. I am currently on OPT/STEM OPT or CPT. How does the current situation impact me and my ability to work?

OPT/STEM OPT and CPT work authorizations that have been authorized remain valid for the dates of authorization. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has provided guidance and accommodation recognizing that changes to workplace requirements may impact students pursuing practical training. Students in such situations should consult with their employers and seek alternative ways to maintain employment such as teleworking and other arrangements.

If there are any substantial changes to OPT employment, make sure you to report the change to OIS so we can update your SEVIS record.

Students on authorized CPT should check with their employer about the viability of the employment/experience. If there is any change to employment dates, contact OIS to have the authorization updated on your I-20.

8. I am an international student on a study abroad exchange program in one of the impacted countries. What should I do?

If the program is cancelled, students may return to their home country. Students have the following options:

  • Take a leave of absence, withdraw for the semester and close their SEVIS records

  • Maintain status by enrolling in remote instruction/online courses, unless they qualify for reduced credit

    authorization under any of the permissible reduced course load exceptions

9. I have been re-admitted to Rutgers for the summer; how does the current crisis impact my situation? Students who are in the U.S. (possibly at another institution, e.g. a community college) can transfer their records back to Rutgers.

Students who are outside the U.S. and were looking to return over the summer may face the travel restrictions (based on when they are looking to return and the travel restrictions at the time). If they are unable to return, their readmission as well as their immigration status may have to be deferred. Since their SEVIS records are closed, students may take online classes as offered by their school/department while overseas.

Students will need to contact an OIS for guidance on the appropriate way to obtain a new I-20 when they are able to return. Based on the period of their absence from the country (less than 5 months or more than 5 months), the action recommended will be different.

10. I am a new student starting my studies in the fall semester at Rutgers University. Can I begin my studies in the fall if I cannot come to the U.S. in time?

As a new student, you would need to come into the U.S. and report to Rutgers to activate your SEVIS record and legal status. If you are enrolled for the fall, and unable to come to the U.S., your F-1/J-1 record would need to be deferred to the start of the next semester. You can academically begin in the fall if your department/school provides remote instruction options, but your immigration status would only be activated when you are able to enter the U.S.

Please inform OIS at ois@camden.rutgers.edu if you are in this situation. More information about delayed enrollment, as well as possibly beginning Rutgers enrollment and courses while abroad (using online or other methods), will be outlined in future communications.

11. I am planning to attend Rutgers in the fall and am already in the U.S. What should I do?

New students who are already in the U.S. (in high school, or at a different institution), can have their SEVIS records transferred to Rutgers and stay in the U.S. even if their program at Rutgers begins in the fall. Please consult with the international services office in your current school about your transfer eligibility and timelines.

12. My visa is expiring soon. Can I travel home or to a third country to apply for a new visa?

International students should consider the following as they plan to travel out of the country to apply for a new visa:

  • Students can remain in the U.S. with an expired visa as long as they have legal status in the U.S. The F-1/J-1

    visa only needs to be valid at the time of entry into the U.S. If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., you can still continue to stay here as long as you are maintaining your status. If your visa expires and you have traveled out of the U.S., you will need to apply for a new visa.

  • If students must travel out of the country, they should keep in mind the status of visa application operations at the embassy or consulate where they intend to apply, as well as travel and other restrictions in the destination countries visited while out of the U.S. The following links should be closely monitored for the latest information on the status of embassies and consulates around the world:

         The Department of State website for the status of operations at the embassy where students intend to apply for a visa

         Visa wait times at various embassies

  • Students should also be mindful of U.S. government-imposed travel restrictions that may lead to problems with re-entry into the U.S.

  • Students should also consider the implications of their travel on immigration benefits such as OPT.

13. I am a student currently enrolled at another institution in the U.S. Do I need a new visa to begin study at Rutgers in the fall?

You do not need a new visa to begin the new program at Rutgers if you remain in the U.S. while between schools. If you choose to travel internationally, you will need to check with your embassy or consulate to determine if you need to apply for a new visa. If you have a valid visa (valid at the time of expected entry to the U.S.), chances are you won’t need to apply for a new one.

F-1 students can have their record transferred to Rutgers within 60 days of their program completion date at the current school. Your program at Rutgers must begin within five months of the date of last enrollment at your current school (program completion date) or the last date of authorized Optional Practical Training (OPT).

J-1 students can transfer their SEVIS records to Rutgers, but their new program must begin immediately after completion of the current program (no gap allowed).

14. Where are the current travel bans?

The March 14 Presidential Proclamation updates previous travel restrictions. It suspends entry into the U.S. of all non- U.S. citizens who were physically present within the following countries during the 14-day period preceding their entry to the U.S.

  • People’s Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau)
  • Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Schengen Area
  • United Kingdom, excluding overseas territories outside of Europe
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Brazil (as of May 24-25) – This Presidential Proclamation suspends the entry for any non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents who were physically present in Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry to the U.S.
  • National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland (July 16, 2020) – This guidance from the Department of State allows certain travelers eligibility of National Interest Exceptions (NIE) to travel to the U.S. even while the
    travel bans remain in effect. According to the guidance, F-1 students from the “Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas, do not need to seek a national interest exception to travel. Students from those areas who are traveling on a J-1 may contact the nearest embassy or consulate to initiate an exception request.”

Please note that the situation is changing daily. Also, many countries are imposing immigration restrictions in order to contain the virus. For further information, please review travel advisories available from the U.S. State Department, the CDC, and the country/countries outside of the US from which you want to fly from or to. Please contact our office if you have any other questions.

15. I am planning on going home for the summer. What do I need to return to the US for the fall 2020 semester?

You should plan for your trip home by first reviewing your visa documents for re-entry to the US. Below are the documents you will need to return to the US.

1. Unexpired passport
2. Unexpired F-1 visa
3. Unexpired I-20
4. Unexpired travel signature on your I-20 (Travel signatures are good for 12 months.) 5. SEVIS fee payment receipt

16. If I am taking a full course load from my home country, will I lose my status after 5 months?

Five-Month Rule – As long as you maintain a full course load online and make normal progress towards your degree, the five-month rule will not impact your immigration status. This is a temporary measure put in place by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) due to COVID, and is subject to change. Learn more about the five-month rule here

17. Am I eligible for a stimulus check? 

CARES Act Stimulus Checks – According to the IRS, only individuals who are considered residents for tax purposes are eligible for the stimulus check from the federal government. For F-1 and J-1 students, a resident for tax purposes is defined as someone who has lived in the US for five or more years. If you do not meet this criterion, you are not eligible for the stimulus funds and may need to return the money if you have received it erroneously. Please click here for more detail (read the section on Erroneous Receipt of CARES Act Stimulus Check.

18. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits? 

Unemployment Benefits – The U.S. Department of Labor’s unemployment insurance programs provide benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own and meet other eligibility requirements. Each state administers the program differently; those employed in New Jersey can learn about New Jersey’s program at https://myunemployment.nj.gov/labor/myunemployment/before/about/.

  • OIS cannot advise on your eligibility of unemployment benefits; please read the information and contact the appropriate state office for questions.

19. Can I get paid for an assistantship, fellowship, or hourly work while I am overseas? Can I receive tuition remission?

Continuing fully supported PhD students who have active SEVIS records, SSNs, can be onboarded in the Rutgers HR/Payroll systems, and have a US bank account may receive tuition remission, stipends/pay, and Fellowship funds while overseas. This is not guaranteed, the graduate program will determine if the student can carry out the duties associated with the academic appointment remotely. There may be other factors influencing this decision which will be considered by the graduate program. This guidance only applies to fully supported continuing PhD students. Decisions on all other forms of funding/employment for continuing students (PTLs, hourly work, etc.) while they are overseas is still pending. We will share this information as soon as guidance is made available at the university.