FAQs For International Students: COVID-19 Major Changes

We know you're juggling a lot as the College and federal government make 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. 

On July 14, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rescinded its Fall 2020 guidance issued on July 6 that would have dramatically impacted international students’ study and status maintenance options this fall. Instead of moving forward with the disruptive policy outlined in its July 6 announcement, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) immediately reverted back to the guidance previously issued for Spring/Summer 2020.

We celebrate this as an important moment of victory for international students, and a testament to the power of collective action initiated by institutions of higher education across the U.S. At the same time, we know that some questions remain unanswered at this stage, including whether ICE will attempt to replace the rescinded guidance.

On July 24, SEVP issued a Clarifying Questions for Fall 2020 Based On March 9 Spring Guidance Broadcast which answered some of the questions that lingered after the rescission of July 6 guidance.  On August 7, the content of the Clarifying Questions document was combined with previous guidance to form SEVP's current Frequently Asked Questions for SEVP Stakeholders about COVID-19.  

While some questions remain, it may be helpful to outline what we do know thus far.  To this end, the questions and answers below are intended to help you make as much sense as possible of SEVP's FAQs.  We continue to closely monitor this evolving situation, so please check back for updates.

If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to email us at cise@amherst.edu or connect with us during advising hours.


Questions by category:


F-1 status 

I am planning to study on-campus this fall.  What does the current SEVP guidance mean for me?

  • As long as you continue to maintain your F-1 status, including reporting your current address and making academic progress in a full courseload this semester (whether online, in-person, or a mix of both), you will be fulfilling F-1 requirements.
  • If you are a new student, you must enroll in at least one in-person course this fall in order to enter the US.

 

I am planning to study off-campus/remotely from within the U.S. this fall.  What does the current SEVP guidance mean for me?

  • As long as you continue to maintain your F-1 status, including reporting your current address and making academic progress in a full courseload this semester (whether online, in-person, or a mix of both), you will be fulfilling F-1 requirements.
  • If you are a new student, you must enroll in at least one in-person course this fall in order to enter the US.

 

I am planning to study remotely from outside of the U.S. this fall.  What does the current SEVP guidance mean for me?

  • Firstly, it is important to make clear that, from a College perspective, you are permitted to study remotely in the fall from outside of the U.S.—doing so will not jeopardize your student standing with the College in any way.  
  • For students who were enrolled in spring, the same flexibility extended then will be in place this fall. As long as you continue to maintain your F-1 status, including reporting your current address and making academic progress in a full courseload this semester (even if fully online), you will be fulfilling F-1 requirements
  • For new F-1 students, the F-1 record can only be activated if you are studying from within the U.S.  If you do not enter the U.S. to study this fall, your F-1 record and I-20 will be updated to reflect your anticipated on-campus start date in the future.

 

What happens if the College shifts from a “hybrid” model to offering entirely online classes in the middle of the semester?

  • Per SEVP's FAQs, "Nonimmigrant students pursuing studies in the United States for the fall 2020 school term may remain in the United States even if their educational institution switches to a hybrid program or to fully online instruction."  In this way, should the College shift to an entirely remote learning model during the semester, you would be permitted to keep an active F-1 record and remain in the U.S. or study remotely from outside of the US, as long as you maintain a full courseload.

 

I am considering taking a leave of absence this fall.  What do I need to know?

 

Can the CISE still send I-20s electronically?

  • Yes!  Current guidance is clear that electronically sent I-20s are permitted.
  • Given this, the CISE will email I-20s to students while this guidance is in place.  You should print out your I-20 in color and carry the print-out with you. If you would like the original hardcopy of your I-20, you may request that it be shipped to you.
  • If your I-20 was sent to you electronically, it is recommended that you keep a copy of the CISE’s Electronically Sent I-20s and COVID-19 Regulatory Guidance sheet along with your print-out I-20, in case its validity is ever questioned.  

 

Do I need to report my address when I am not living on-campus?

  • If you are in F-1 status and/or have an active F-1 record, yes, you need to report your address!  Every time your physical address changes, be sure to submit the CISE Address Collection form within ten days of the change.  This is always a requirement of F-1 status, so don’t skip it!

 

I have more questions about my F-1 status.  How can I get answers?

The CISE is here for you!  Whether on-campus or off-campus, our advising hours are available to you, and you can always email us, too.

 

Travel

What current U.S. travel restrictions are in place around COVID-19?

  • Travel into the U.S. is prohibited for many individuals who have been in China, Iran, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil within 14 days per various Presidential Proclamations

  • On July 22, however, the U.S. Department of State announced that “students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 or M-1 visas do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual national interest exception to travel. Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for a national interest exception to travel."   The CISE recommends that F-1 students traveling to the U.S. within 14 days of having been in the Schengen Area, the UK, or Ireland should carry a print-out of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) memo confirming Waivers of Presidential Proclamations 9993 (Schengen Area) and 9996 (United Kingdom and Ireland) for Academics and Students.

  • Non-essential travel across the U.S.-Canada land border and the U.S.-Mexico land border is also restricted.  “Study” is considered essential, though accompanying someone who is entering the U.S. to study is not considered essential.  If your family is thinking about driving across the border with you to help with move-in, they may need to plan alternative travel arrangements.

 

What quarantine requirements does the U.S. currently have in place?

  • While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers general information for entering the US after travel.  The U.S. does not have any federal quarantine measures.
  • The state of Massachusetts, however, announced a Travel Order on August 1.
  • The College is monitoring federal, state, and local guidance closely.  As mentioned in the College’s July 1 announcement, “Students should expect that they will need to go through some isolation period when they first arrive on campus. Throughout this period we will provide online programming and meal delivery.”  More information about move-in and housing can be found in the College’s Fall 2020 Plans Student FAQs.

 

Is it possible to apply for a U.S. visa right now?

 

What documents should I carry with me when I travel?

 

I need a travel signature on my I-20.  How can I get one?

  • Travel signatures on the I-20 are valid for 12 months (6 months for those on Post-Completion and STEM OPT).  You must have a valid travel signature on your I-20 in order to enter the U.S. in F-1 status.
  • To request a travel signature, please reach out to us or book an advising appointment with us.

 

I'm currently in the U.S. and would like to 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 U.S. are helping citizens of their country with emergency evacuation planning.  Visit Travel.State.Gov's full list of embassies and contact information.

 

Will being outside of the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S., 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 U.S. for 5+ months during the temporary adaptation of distance learning this semester.
  • Per SEVP's FAQs, the "five month rule" will not impact F-1 students who remain full-time enrolled, even if you are participating in distance learning outside of the U.S.

 

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 U.S. as long as the provider/service is in network for Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) under Amherst College's student plan.  Outside of the U.S., 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.
 
Campus:

I submitted my intent form, but with everything that is happening this week I am considering changing my fall plans. What should I do now?

  • Understandably, recent changes to fall guidance may lead you to reconsider your Fall Intent Form submission. Please know that there is no immediate rush to modify your fall intention. It is important to take the time you need to make a decision that feels right for you given evolving considerations. Should you determine that you would like to change your intent submission, now or in the weeks to come, please reach out to your Class Dean.

 

Can I take in-person classes if I am living in the U.S. but not on-campus this fall?

  • No, you will not be permitted to come to campus if you are not living on-campus this fall.

 

Will I be allowed to petition to stay on campus for January term and Spring semester?

  • Yes. International students will, as usual, be prioritized.

 

Employment:

I am studying remotely from outside of the U.S. this fall.  Can I work my on-campus job remotely from outside of the U.S.?

  • On August 19, the College announced that: As of the fall 2020 semester, student employment authorization will be limited to on-campus and remote work for enrolled students who are residing in the United States. Due to the complexities of international tax laws and employment regulations in each country, the College will not allow students who are learning remotely and living outside the United States (regardless of citizenship) to work for the College. 
  • Questions should be referred to Nancy Robinson, Student Employment Coordinator (narobinson@amherst.edu).

 

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 SEVP's FAQs, 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. 
    • 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.
    • 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. 
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.

 

Are U.S. work visas currently suspended?

  • Not exactly.  On June 22, 2020, the White House issued a proclamation (Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak).  You can read a great summary of the proclamation by NAFSA: Association of International Educators online.
  • In short, the proclamation:
    • H-1B and H-2B visa and dependents,
    • J-1 visa (only certain categories of J-1 visas; J-1 student visas are not impacted), and
    • L visa and dependents.
    • Extends through the end of 2020 of the April proclamation, which barred entry to the U.S. for new immigrants
    • Suspends entry to the U.S. through the end of 2020 for the following visa types for any individual who is outside of the U.S. and does not have a valid nonimmigrant visa/travel document as of June 22, 2020:
  • This proclamation goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. eastern daylight time on June 24, 2020.

I have been approved for OPT, but I have not yet received my Employment Authorization Document.  What is going on?

  • On July 22, the Department of Homeland Security announced that they are experiencing a delay in the issuance of Employment Authorization Documents (EADs).
 
 
And more:

If I am not able to travel back to the U.S./campus for the fall semester, can I study "away" at a site closer to me?

  • As you may know, the College recently made the decision to cancel all study away and domestic study for the fall 2020 semester. There are, however, a few exceptions to this decision. 
    • Some international students may be permitted to study away in the fall 2020 semester on an approved program if they are unable to return to the U.S. due to visa processing delays or travel restrictions.
    • International students may also choose to study away on an approved program if the College decides to start the semester remotely and the time difference between the student's home and Amherst would make synchronous learning a challenge.
  • If you would like to explore programs of study for fall, please be in touch with Janna Behrens, Director of Global Education, as soon as possible.  

Can I submit taxes from abroad?

  • Yes!  If you leave campus, you are still required to file your taxes.  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 U.S.
  • If international mail is currently unreliable, and you are interested in learning about filing for an extension to the tax deadline, you can read about it on the IRS’s Extension of Time To File Your Tax Return page, and you can ask Sprintax about it via their live chat function.
  • Reminder: the 2020 deadline for taxes was July 15, 2020.

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

  • You can read about eligibility criteria in the IRS's FAQs 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 U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the CARES Act appears to provide the credit to those who are residents for U.S. tax purposes, based on the substantial presence test, and have a valid Social Security Number.  Nonresidents for U.S. tax purposes are ineligible.  
  • If you have been in the U.S. 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 U.S. taxes as residents for tax purposes, are entitled to receive the stimulus payment.
  • If you received the stimulus payment and believe you erroneously filed U.S. 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).

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.