FAQs For International Students: COVID-19 Major Changes

We know you're juggling a lot as the College makes major COVID-19-related shifts, and you have a lot of questions. To help our international student community in navigating campus changes and plans for upcoming travel, we've compiled a list of FAQs that we hope can be a useful resource.
 
If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to email us at cise@amherst.edu, contact us to set up an appointment, or connect with us during advising hours.
 

Questions by category:


F-1/J-1 status 

How will Amherst College’s shift to distance learning affect my F-1/J-1 student status?
  • As long as you continue to maintain your F-1/J-1 status, including reporting your current address and making academic progress in a full courseload this semester (even if online), you will be fulfilling the requirements of your F-1/J-1 visa.
Wait, I thought F-1 students weren’t allowed to enroll in more than one online course per semester.  Are you sure this is okay?
  • Yes.  The Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged that colleges and universities must adapt their procedures and policies to address the significant public health concerns associated with the COVID-19 crisis this semester.  In light of this, Amherst College’s current shift to distance learning is considered a temporary adaptation, and will not result in any status violations during this term.

Will being outside of the US for five or more months impact my F-1 visa?

  • The "five month rule," as it's often known, is understood to be specific to absences of more than five months that are unconnected to study. In our current situation, students who continue to participate in distance learning from outside of the US will very much remain connected to study. We will be providing all of our F-1 students with documentation to this effect in the coming weeks, as well, which can be presented should a Customs and Border Protection agent have extra questions/concerns upon re-entry to the US, or if questions about our current circumstances ever crop up when applying for immigration benefits down the line. In short, we see no reason to be concerned about F-1 students being outside of the US for 5+ months during the temporary adaptation of distance learning this semester.

  • On March 23, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the "five month rule" will not impact F-1 students who remain full-time enrolled, even if they are participating in distance learning outside of the US.

Can CISE send my I-20 to me via email?

I have more questions about my F-1/J-1 status.  How can I get answers?
  • The CISE is here for you!  Whether on-campus or off-campus, our standing advising hours will be available to you.  Look out for updates on how to participate in advising hours remotely, as we are working to roll out virtual advising options soon.  If you are unable to connect with us during advising hours, please email us at cise@amherst.edu with questions or to schedule an advising appointment.

Travel

I've left campus.  Do I need to report my new addres?
  • Yes!  Now that we are learning at a distance, your campus mailing address is likely not your current address.  Every time your physical address changes, be sure to submit the CISE Address Collection online form within ten days of the change.  
What documents should I carry with me when I travel?
  • Be sure to carry all of the documents listed on the CISE’s travel checklist.  These should be in your carry-on luggage when you next re-enter the US.
  • At this time, we are also recommending that you collect documentation of where you have traveled (itineraries, travel history, etc.) in case you are subject to additional questions upon re-entry to the US.  It may be helpful in that moment to show where you have been, where you have not been, and when.
Do I need a travel signature on my I-20/DS-2019?
  • It’s always a good idea to get a travel signature on your I-20/DS-2019 from the CISE before traveling.
  • Note: travel signatures are valid for 12 months (6 months for those on Post-Completion and STEM OPT).
My F-1/J-1 visa is going to expire while I am outside of the US.  What will I need to do to return to Amherst in the future?
  • As always, you will need a valid F-1 visa in your passport in order to re-enter the US in F-1 status.  F-1 visas can only be obtained at US Consulates/Embassies, which are all located outside of the US.  If your F-1 visa is expiring before your next re-entry to the US, you will need to apply for and obtain a new one before you can return.  
  • Obtaining a new F-1 visa is currently a challenge, however.  The US Department of State has announced that it is "temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates," though it adds that "applicants with an urgent matter and need to travel immediately should follow the guidance provided at the Embassy’s website to request an emergency appointment."
  • If you have any concerns about obtaining a new F-1 visa before re-entering the US, please reach out to us or book and advising appointment with us.
If I am not remaining on campus, can I re-enter the US in F-1/J-1 status during this period of distance learning?
  • Yes, pending federal travel restrictions (see below) and proper travel documentation (see above).  As long as you remain fully enrolled this semester and otherwise maintain your F-1/J-1 status, you will still have an active I-20/DS-2019 and F-1/J-1 SEVIS record.  Therefore, you may continue to travel into the US in F-1/J-1 status during this period of distance learning.
What current travel restrictions are in place around COVID-19?
  • Travel into the US is prohibited for many individuals, including F-1/J-1 students, who have been in China, Iran, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil within 14 days per various Presidential Proclamations.  Non-essential travel across the US- Canada border and the US-Mexico border is also restricted.
  • For information about travel restrictions relating to COVID-19 around the globe, the US Department of State is offering a comprehensive COVID-19 Country Specific Information resource page. Check each county's specific information for entry and exit protocols.
Is there support from Amherst College for booking flights home?
  • The College’s difficult decision to move to remote learning is understandably stressful for students and families who need to make last-minute travel plans and are concerned about financial hardship. The College is trying its best to alleviate their financial concerns and help students instead focus on their health, safety and academics: Finances should not be the primary barrier to students’ ability to leave campus. 
  • The College is committed to providing financial assistance—not loans—and logistical support so that travel changes or new arrangements aren’t cost-prohibitive to students and families. If you need financial assistance or logistical support, please contact Associate Dean of Students Scott Howard at showard@amherst.edu. Associate Dean Howard will work with you to address your needs, or refer you to the appropriate staff member.

I've decided to leave the US and return home, but cannot find commercially available flights and/or my home country currently prohibits all inbound travel.  What are my options?

  • Many foreign embassies and consulates in the US are helping citizens of their country with emergency evacuation planning.  Visit Travel.State.Gov's full list of embassies and contact information.

Staying on campus
What travel restrictions will Amherst College have in place for those who remain on campus? 
  • Students who petition and are approved to remain on campus will be expected not to travel beyond the town of Amherst.
 
Employment:
Can I keep working for my on-campus employer remotely?
  • Yes.  Per the Department of Homeland Security's COVID-19 FAQs, if your current on-campus employment opportunity has transitioned to remote work or the employment can be done through remote means, you may continue to engage in on-campus employment remotely.
  • As an international student, your method of payment for on-campus work will be determined by where you are located. If you are conducting on-campus work remotely from outside of the US, please fill out the On-Campus Work and International Students: Physical location form.
Can I still apply for summer CPT?
  • Absolutely.  Curricular Practical Training applications are submitted digitally, and do not require you to be on campus at the time of submission.  See our CPT info page for eligibility criteria and application instructions.
Can I participate in my CPT-authorized summer internship remotely from outside of the US due to COVID-19?
  • Yes. Per the US Department of Homeland Security's FAQs for SEVP Stakeholders about COVID-19, “students may engage in CPT during their time abroad, provided...either the employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives remotely.”
  • However, you'll want to confirm with your employer that they support this, and be sure to understand any tax implications and work authorization regulations that might impact you in the country out of which you are hoping to work remotely.
Can I still apply for summer/post-completion OPT?
  • Yes, though extra logistical steps will need to be taken and there is a level of risk involved for students who are applying for Optional Practical Training from outside of the US.  In short, OPT applications must be mailed to the USCIS from within the US, so coordinating with a trusted friend or family member who is in the US is essential (the CISE is not able to serve in the capacity).  There is a level of risk that an OPT application submitted by a student who is not in the US could be rejected or denied, though we at the CISE have yet to see such a rejection/denial.  For more information on OPT and how to apply, visit our OPT info page.
I am on Post-Completion OPT, and my weekly employment hours have been reduced below 20.  Am I accruing unemployment time?
  • As you know, students on Post-Completion OPT are permitted up to 90 days of cumulative unemployment time, and must be working a minimum 20 hours per week in order to be considered “employed."  Per the US Department of Homeland Security's FAQs for SEVP Stakeholders about COVID-19, however, students who are "working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week" are still considered engaged in OPT for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.
I am on Post-Completion OPT and I have lost/am worried about losing my job.  Will I accrue unemployment time if I can no longer work due to COVID-19?
  • First, let's dig a little deeper into what it means for you to have lost your job. It is important to be clear on whether you are being laid off, or if you are being placed on a temporary leave. 
    • Being laid off means that you do not have a job to come back to and will be asked to reapply in the future to begin working again.
      • In this case: you are required to report this end in employment within 10 days. These days will count as unemployment and will not count against the maximum of 90 cumulative days of unemployment.
    • Being placed on leave (paid or unpaid) means that your place of employment is temporarily suspending services, but will keep your position for you and expect you to return when the company reopens.
      • In this case: the days you are not working will not count as unemployment and will not count against the maximum of 90 cumulative days of unemployment. 
    • Note: Employers use various terms to convey employment status changes, e.g. furloughed, laid off, suspended, terminated, and more. If you are not sure what your employment status means for you, you should ask your employer directly.
 
And more:
Can I submit taxes from abroad?
  • Yes!  If you leave campus, you are still required to file your taxes.  The CISE has continued and will continue to send reminders about tax filing via our newsletter.  Please visit our Tax Obligations page for further information about filing.  Tax paperwork prepared by Sprintax can be mailed to the IRS from outside of the US.

I received the $1200 CARES act stimulus payment.  Was I supposed to?

  • You can read about eligibility criteria in the IRS's FAQ about CARES-act stimulus payments.
  • The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has also published a helpful reference: Noncitizens and Eligibility for the 2020 Recovery Rebates.
  • In addition to US citizens and permanent residents, the CARES Act appears to provide the credit to those who are residents for US tax purposes, based on the substantial presence test, and have a valid Social Security Number.  Nonresidents for US tax purposes are ineligible.  
  • If you have been in the US long enough to be considered a resident for tax purposes (via the substantial presence test), the IRS has not published anything which would exclude nonimmigrant international students from eligibility for the stimulus payments. F-1 and J-1 students who are determined to be residents for tax purposes via the substantial presence test, and have correctly filed US taxes as residents for tax purposes, are entitled to receive the stimulus payment.
  • If you received the stimulus payment and believe you erroneously filed US taxes in 2018 or 2019 as a resident for tax purposes (when in fact, per the substantial presence test, you should have filed as a nonresident for tax purposes), you should amend that tax filing.  Amending 2017, 2018, and 2019 tax returns can be done online via Sprintax if necessary. 
    • If you are amending your previous tax returns to reflect being a nonresident for tax purposes, or if you otherwise believe you have received the stimulus payment in error, it is not yet known whether the IRS will put mechanisms  in place to identify and collect erroneous payments. If you are concerned, the safest thing to do is to return the funds to the IRS (see Q41).
I’m studying away this semester and I have questions about how Amherst’s changes might impact me on my program.
Health insurance: what does it cover out of state, or out of country?
  • Student health insurance will continue to cover the student through mid-August.  It can be used anywhere in the US as long as the provider/service is in network for Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) under Amherst College's student plan.  Outside of the US, there still may be providers that accept the BCBS, but you may have to pay up-front and submit for reimbursement.  If the provider is out of network, there may be a 20% charge.  The Gallagher website is a helpful resource.

For additional information, be sure to visit the Amherst College COVID-19 info page.  The related FAQs page has many answers that may be helpful.  Additional questions can be directed to covid-19-info@amherst.edu or via phone at +1(413) 542-2612.