International Student Services

Coronavirus information for F1 & J1 students

As a result of COVID-19, the U.S. government has made temporary changes and allowances to F-1 and J-1 regulations. 

We encourage you to review the information below to help you find the answers to your questions. University-wide information & updates can be found at UW Coronavirus Facts & Resources.

ISS Coronavirus FAQ’s

Updated: February 12, 2021

 UW Announcements & Government Updates | ISS Services and Availability | Remote Learning | Travel Information | Graduating Students | CPT | OPT| International Student Health Insurance Program| Campus Resources |Financial Resources|


UW Announcements & Government Updates

January 19: President Cauce sends update on spring and autumn quarter 2021 plans

President Cauce sent an email to all students on January 19 announcing most spring quarter courses will be offered remotely, while also offering more in-person student services and activities as the quarter progresses.

President Cauce also stated that based on current projections from health experts, we are looking forward to welcoming you back to campus for an autumn quarter with largely in-person classes. This decision will depend on the distribution of vaccines and state and federal guidance. 

The upcoming spring time schedule will have information about in-person and remote options. Remote courses will be noted as “offered via remote learning” and in person courses will have a classroom assigned. 

October 14: President Cauce sends update on winter quarter 2021 instruction

President Cauce sent an email to all students on October 14 announcing most winter quarter courses will be offered remotely. The winter quarter time schedule has information about in-person and remote options. Remote courses will be noted as “offered via remote learning” and in person courses will have a classroom assigned. 

SEVP Immigration Updates for F-1 and J-1 Students

SEVP has communicated temporary changes to F-1 policy and practice through different communications (listed below). ISS continues to use this guidance as we advise students on their F-1 status during COVID-19. 

Students can also read COVID-19 Guidance from the government directly on the websites below: 

July 15: U.S. Department State announces Phased Resumption of Routine Visa Services, including F and J visas

The U.S. Department of State announced that routine visa services would begin to resume at consulates and embassies around the world on a post by post basis. There is no specific re-opening date as each mission will determine when they can resume visa processing based on when it is safe to re-open in each location. F and J visa appointments will be prioritized for individuals with urgent travel needs. Check the local consulate or embassies web page directly for the most up-to-date information.  


ISS Services and Availability

ISS winter quarter hours & processing timeline

ISS staff will continue to work remotely through winter quarter and Schmitz Hall will remain closed. Virtual drop-in advising is available at the following times: 

  • Tuesday – 9 AM to 11 AM
  • Wednesday – 3 PM to 5 PM
  • Thursday – 9 AM to 11 AM

Advisors also have limited appointments available throughout the week. You can seek advising support through the Have A Question Form on the right side of our website. Advisors may offer appointments to students with more complex cases. 

Students who need immediate support are encouraged to find information on the ISS website as it has the most accurate advising information. 

Immigration requests will be completed within 15 business days. We ask students to apply early. Currently, we are able to respond to Have a Question emails within 5 business days. 

We appreciate your understanding and thank you for your patience.

Deferring your I-20: Updated Process for Spring Quarter 2021

We understand that many students are still making decisions about travel to the U.S. for in-person study. Your I-20 needs to be updated so that the program start date aligns with the quarter you plan to arrive. This process is known as a ‘deferral’. We are currently processing deferrals one quarter at a time. 

Please use our guide to determine the appropriate process based on your I-20 type and travel plans. 

If you want to defer from spring quarter to autumn quarter, please check back on March 22, 2021.


Click the guide to enlarge the image. 

Remote Learning 

Are independent study/dissertation/thesis/research credits considered in-person courses?

Yes. Independent study, dissertation, thesis, and research credits are overseen by a professor. Professors manage the requirements for these courses and they are always considered in-person courses. 

Can I study entirely online within the U.S.?

This depends on your I-20 status. Students with initial attendance, transfer pending, or change of level I-20s for winter must take an in-person course if they enter the United States. Please see the infographic below to better understand your immigration status type. 

Initial attendance & continued attendance form I-20s infographic

Who needs to take an in-person course?

Only students with an initial attendance, transfer pending or change of education level I-20 who come to the United States to initiate their F-1 status are required to take an in-person course. 

What in-person courses are available for spring 2021?

Undergraduate students can enroll in LEAD 298B and Graduate Students can enroll in EDLPS 549. Students can email for support with enrolling in these courses or they may contact their academic advisors for more information. 

Are there any "Go Local" partnerships outside the U.S. so I can take courses in my home country that will count towards my UW degree?

UW Study Abroad has developed a Go Local option for undergraduate students at University. You can learn more on the Study Abroad Website or email 


Travel Information

How can I get a new travel signature before traveling to the U.S.?

Students who are traveling to the U.S. should confirm that they have a valid  travel signature before traveling to the U.S. It is helpful to review the Travel and Visas information and check the travel signature expiration date on page 2 of the I-20s. Travel signatures are valid for one year for continuing students. Students on OPT or STEM OPT need a new travel signature every six months. 

Students with initial I-20 documents may not have a travel signature until after they have established their F-1 status in the U.S. 

If your travel signature is expired, complete the Online Travel Signature request form. Allow up to 10 business days for processing. Once processed, you will receive a digital I-20 with an e-signature sent to your official UW email account.  

Which countries are impacted by the coronavirus travel restrictions to the U.S. and how long will they last?

The January 25 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. It is unknown how long the travel restrictions will be in place. The following countries/regions are currently impacted:

  • People’s Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau)
  • Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Schengen Area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland)
  • United Kingdom, excluding overseas territories outside of Europe
  • Ireland
  • Brazil
  • South Africa

It was announced July 16 that F visa holders from the Schengen Area, UK, and Ireland will be allowed to travel without a national interest exception. J-1 visa holders should contact their nearest U.S. consulate before traveling.

Please continue to monitor the news, airline travel information, and this web page for changes or updates. 

Are there restrictions on returning to the U.S. from Canada or Mexico?

We recommend reviewing the Fact Sheet: DHS Measures on the Border to Limit the Further Spread of Coronavirus. “Non-essential” travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature. These measures were implemented in April 2020 and have been extended every 30 days since then. On October 19, the border closure was extended again through November 21, 2020. Before traveling from Canada or Mexico, we recommend checking for the most up-to-date information and you should be prepared to explain why your travel to the U.S. is “essential.”

I plan to travel during the pandemic. What should I think about?

We encourage students to make decisions on travel based on their health and safety. Please see the list of things to consider before traveling below: 

  • Essential travel: Is your travel essential, for example mental health, medical, or family reasons?
  • Risks: Are you comfortable with the travel risks, both health risks and re-entry to the U.S.?
  • Visas: Do you require a new F-1 visa? If yes, consider the limited U.S. consulate services and visa delays.
  • Travel restrictions: Are you traveling to a country with current travel restrictions? Be prepared for quarantines and limited flights or additional restrictions that may impact your return to the U.S.
  • U.S. immigration rules: Exceptions were made to the online enrollment rules to keep SEVIS records valid through autumn quarter. We do not know when or if updated restrictions will be announced before January.
  • Graduating students planning for OPT: Currently, government guidance states you must submit your OPT application to USCIS from within the U.S. Additional information available under Graduating Students on the ISS COVID-19 page.

Continue to check the Coronavirus information for F1 & J1 students for updates as they become available. You can also monitor the U.S. Government’s Study in the States: COVID-19 Resources for updates.

What travel documents am I required to have when I re-enter the U.S.?

At this time, international students must have the following documents in order to return to the U.S. in F1 status:

  • Valid I-20 with a valid travel signature
  • Valid passport that must be valid for 6 months beyond your expected return to the U.S.
  • Valid F-1 U.S. visa stamp (Canadian citizens exempt)
  • Proof of funding or financial evidence (recommended)
  • Current quarter class schedule showing your courses (recommended)
  • SEVIS I-901 Fee Receipt (recommended)

ISS is not required to update I-20s with specific instructions about mode of instruction. Students who are wish additional information may request a Travel Support Letter with them when they travel.

We recognize it is a highly stressful and unpredictable time, with travel options and restrictions changing daily. Reentry to the U.S. is always at the discretion of U.S. Customs & Border Protection. For more information regarding re-entry requirements and how to prepare for possible questions, please visit the ISS Travel & Visas page.

Will I be required to self-isolate or self-quarantine when I arrive in the U.S. or on-campus?

We recommend you review the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommendations for people after air travel. It is generally recommended that you monitor your health for 14 days from the time you return from domestic or international travel. International flights arrive at specific airports in the U.S. which may have additional screening and requirements. It is recommended you prepare to social distance and monitor your health for 14 days after returning to the U.S. There are currently no mandatory quarantines for international travelers. UW Housing & Food Services has provided additional cornonavirus information for residents living on-campus. There is currently no requirement to self-isolate when after moving into on-campus housing.

On January 12, 2021, the CDC announced a new requirement for all air passengers entering the U.S. Starting January 26, 2021, all air passengers will be required to test negative for COVID-19 prior to boarding their flight to the U.S. More information is available on the CDC website.

We also recommend that you review the latest Coronavirus response information from Washington State as you prepare to travel. 

Can I travel to another country before traveling to the U.S.?

If you plan to travel to another country before entering the U.S., check travel restrictions in that country before you make travel plans. Many countries around the world have restricted travel to/from other countries so be sure to review travel restrictions before you travel. Be aware that you must remain physically present outside of the country impacted by travel restrictions for 14 days or more before you will be allowed to enter the U.S. ISS advisors cannot advise on travel to countries other than the U.S. Do your research and understand any restrictions or requirements before traveling.

My planned time outside the U.S. will be 5 months or more. I have heard there is a maximum 5 month limit. Can I still return to the U.S.?

The five month rule is less strict under COVID-19 conditions and guidance. 

ISS plans to work with students who are outside the U.S. to ensure their I-20s are valid when they return. Advisors continue to work with SEVP to activate student’s records who may have been outside the U.S. for over five months. 

Students who are fully enrolled and outside the U.S. during the pandemic will have an easier time navigating this exception. Students who are not enrolled and are remaining outside the U.S. will need to complete the Return to UW process to request a new I-20.

Also, if your F-1 visa is still valid, you will not need to renew your visa regardless of the length of time outside the U.S.. If your existing visa has or will expire, you will be required to apply for a new visa before returning to the U.S. Review the Embassy or Consulate’s visa appointment information where you before you make final travel plans.


Final Quarter and Graduation

I am graduating and want to apply for OPT. Do I have to remain in the U.S.?

The I-765 form to apply for Optional Practical Training instructs you to submit the form within the United States. We recommend that you follow the instructions on the form. If you follow different instructions, we cannot provide guidance on how USCIS will respond or whether they will accept your application.

I am planning to graduate soon. What are my options?

Every student’s situation is different. We encourage you to review the Final Quarter Checklist to learn about your options. 

I am nearing the end of my F-1 status and want to return home. How do I end my status?

First, we please review the Final Quarter Checklist to learn about options that are available. 

Please keep accurate records related to your F-1 status for future use. We recommend that you keep digital copies of all I-20s and other documents. 

My F or J status is expiring soon and flights to my home country are very limited. What should I do?

In this difficult time, it is important to look for options to help you achieve your goals. We have listed some steps you can below. 

  • Check our “Final Quarter Checklist” to see if any of the options apply to you (practical training, transfer out, etc.).
  • Contact your country’s embassy here in the U.S. to see if any accommodations could be made to assist with your return home.
  • Complete the Have a Question web form to report your situation to an ISS advisor.
  • Submit a Change of Status application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If you wish to consider this option, we recommend you to consult an immigration attorney for legal advice on the change of visa status process.
  • The U.S. government has not announced any kind of automatic extension of grace periods as of now, but this concern has been raised by U.S. institutions and immigration attorneys across the U.S. We will post to this page any updates or changes to this policy when new information becomes available.

We encourage you to check this page and the FAQs regularly since this scenario will be very common for many international students. We hope to have an update from the government on this topic.

How do I change from F status to tourist or visitor status?

Many students apply for employment authorization, or start a new program. But if those are not an option for you and you are unable to depart the U.S. within the grace period following your UW program, you can apply to change status to another visa category. It is possible to file a Form I-539 change of status application from F-1 or J-1 student to B-2 visitor for tourism. As the change of status application can be complex and involves risks, we recommend consulting an immigration attorney.


Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

If my CPT offer becomes remote, can I do it from my home country? Do I still need CPT authorization?

If you will remain in the U.S. for your CPT quarter and will be doing work remotely, you must apply for CPT authorization. You are permitted to do remote work in the U.S. for your CPT activity during the current COVID-19 situation.

If you will be outside of the U.S. for the entire length of your internship, you do not need to apply for CPT authorization. We recommend you keep documentation to prove you were physically outside of the U.S. during the entire internship period.

Due to COVID-19, my CPT has changed to remote work. Do I need to report this change to ISS?

You are allowed to proceed with your work if you have CPT authorization. The temporary change to remote work (work from home) does not require an update to your I-20 or that you report this information to ISS. However, we do recommend you keep documentation of your remote work for your personal records.

Due to COVID-19, my CPT position has been cancelled. How do I cancel my CPT or notify ISS of this change?

Report your pending or approved CPT position has been cancelled to the ISS by submitting our Cancellation Request web form.

  • If you have already started working or participated in any orientation/training activities for this employer:
    • SEVIS does not allow retroactive CPT authorization cancellations. ISS advisers will shorten the authorization to the last day you worked with the employer.
    • You will still be required to register for and earn CPT-related credit according to the CPT application.
  • If you have not worked or participated in any orientation/training activities for this employer:
    • If ISS processes your cancellation request after the approved CPT start date, ISS advisors can only shorten the authorization to one-day. We cannot remove the CPT authorization after the start date, even if you actually did not start the position.
    • If ISS processes your cancellation before the approved CPT start date, your CPT authorization will be fully cancelled in SEVIS.

Due to COVID-19, my CPT position has been delayed to a future quarter. How do I update my CPT?

If you have already submitted a CPT application, please complete the Cancellation Request web form.

If you plan to delay or resume your CPT, a new CPT application would be required. You should check with your employer and your academic department before submitting a new CPT application. Allow 15 business days for processing your request once the ISS receives a completed application.

If I start my program remotely from outside the U.S. due to the pandemic, does that quarter count toward the "one academic year" for CPT eligibility?

No. CPT eligibility requires one year (three quarters) of full-time study under F-1 status to be eligible for CPT. In order to activate your F-1 status, students must enter the U.S. 

The one exception to this one academic year of full-time study in F-1 status is for graduate students whose programs REQUIRE CPT in their first year of study. 


Optional Practical Training (OPT)

If I start my program studying online from outside the U.S. due to COVID-19, does that quarter count toward the "one academic year" for OPT eligibility?

No. Unfortunately, you do not begin your F-1 status until you enter the U.S. Once you enter the U.S., you can begin working towards OPT eligibility. To apply for OPT, you must complete one academic year (three quarters) of full-time study IN the U.S. 

Can I work remotely during Post-Completion OPT and/or the STEM OPT Extension?

Yes. Students can work remotely on OPT and STEM OPT. Students on STEM OPT do NOT need to submit a new I-983 form with remote work details. Students should keep accurate records of where they are working for their future reference. 

I am currently on OPT and cannot find work due to COVID-19. Can the 90-day limit on unemployment be extended?

No. The 90-day unemployment limit is not extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you will exceed the 90-day unemployment limit, you should make arrangements to depart the U.S. before the 90 days expires.

Note: Unpaid work also counts as OPT activity. You may have better luck finding a volunteer position or an unpaid internship related to your studies. Review information about the kinds of activities that count as OPT employment

My OPT was recently approved, but I still have not received my EAD card. Can I start working now?

USCIS announced that there have been delays in printing and delivering EADs.

Because of these delays, USCIS has authorized the temporary use of an I-797 approval notice (not a receipt notice) as proof of work authorization. If you have received your I-797 approval notice by mail and the notice date is between December 1, 2019 and August 20, 2020, you can use this notice as a a “List C” document for I-9 verification purposes with your employer. 

Your employer will need to re-verify you when you receive your actual EAD no later than December 1, 2020. 

What should I do if I have been furloughed or laid off due to the COVID-19 situation?

There is no new government guidance regarding international students on OPT who have lost their employment due to the COVID-19 situation. Please note that furlough and lay offs are different: furlough implies that the workers continue to be employed whereas laid off workers no longer have employment status. 

We recommend consulting an immigration attorney to discuss your options.

Can I apply for unemployment benefits?

Eligibility for unemployment benefits is a complicated combination of immigration and labor laws. There is some concern that accepting unemployment benefits could count as being a “public charge” and potentially affect eligibility for future immigration benefits. It seems, however, some exceptions might be made by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for cases severely affected by COVID-19.

We recommend consulting an immigration attorney before applying for unemployment benefits to learn more about potential consequences. If you decide to apply for unemployment, be sure to keep documentation of how your employment was directly impacted by COVID-19.

You may also want to consider other financial support resources.


International Student Health Insurance Program (ISHIP)

For updates on ISHIP waivers, remote medical care, benefits, and coverage information, review the ISHIP and Coronavirus FAQ page.


Campus Resources for International Students

I am feeling very anxious about COVID-19. What should I do?

If you are experiencing stress or anxiety about this situation, we encourage you to reach out to counselors, advisers, or friends to talk about your feelings. UW Counseling Services and UW Hall Health and are available to help. You can visit the ISS Campus Resources webpage for a list of support services.

How can I connect with other international students at the UW?

A great place to start is with UW’s CIRCLE or FIUTS. Both organizations offer a variety of programs and support for international students. They are dedicated to global engagement, leadership, and cultural understanding.

We encourage you to connect to your classmates as much as possible as well. 

Are there other campus departments or resources to help me?

Yes! We have compiled a list of many campus resources on topics such as Academics, Emergency, Employment & Financial, Health & Student Support, Housing, Food, & Family, etc.


Financial Resources for International Students

How do apply for Severe Economic Hardship or Special Student Relief work authorization?

Students who have extreme hardship may apply for Severe Economic Hardship with USCIS. Details about applying for Severe Economic Hardship with USCIS are listed below. 

  • Currently enrolled students in F-1 status
  • Currently enrolled students in J-1 status
  • Graduated students in F-1 status with pending OPT applications
    • The work authorizations referenced above require you to be a currently enrolled student or for there to have been a Federal Register announcement for Special Student Relief (there has not been such an announcement currently).
    • OPT will be the fastest form of work authorization through USCIS currently.

We will post updated information here if the U.S. government makes announcements providing financial relief for students in F-1 status.

I am having difficulty paying my tuition by the deadline. What should I do?

Contact Student Fiscal Services about your situation before the tuition deadline to help you determine what options may be available.

For limited short-term Emergency Aid, including medical bills, housing/rent, food, transportation fees, or other basic necessities, please complete the Emergency Aid Request.

Are international students eligible to receive COVID-19 economic stimulus relief?

ISS advisors are unable to provide tax advice. However, we would advise you to review the information below. 

ISS purchases access codes for UW international students and scholars to access Glacier Tax Prep (GTP), a software program developed for international students. We recommend you create a profile and login to Glacier Tax Prep (GTP) to use the software to understand your tax situation.

Most international students and scholars in F or J status are considered nonresidents for tax purposes, which is different from your immigration status. GTP will determine whether you are a resident or nonresident for tax purposes by calculating the number of days you have been in the U.S. After logging in to GTP, you can access answers to the following tax stimulus check questions:

  • Am I eligible to receive a COVID-19 stimulus payment?
  • I received a COVID-19 stimulus payment and should not have – do I have to return it?
  • How do I return an incorrectly received COVID-19 stimulus payment to the IRS?

We recommend you review the Glacier Tax Prep FAQ page by logging in or consult a tax expert about the COVID-19 stimulus relief.