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.

If you’re not coming to the U.S. autumn 2021, please read our guidance. 

University-wide information & updates can be found at UW Coronavirus Facts & Resources.

ISS Coronavirus FAQ’s

UW Announcements & Government Updates | Autumn 2021 | Remote Learning | Travel Information | Vaccine Requirements | Final Quarter and Graduation| Curricular Practical Training (CPT)| Optional Practical Training (OPT)| Insurance| Campus Resources for International Students| Financial Resources for International Students

Updated 10/26/2021

UW Announcements & Government Updates

October 25: White House Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-⁠19 Pandemic

The White House announced a new policy for noncitizen nonimmigrant travelers entering the United States. This proclamation is effective beginning November 8 and requires that all noncitizens who are nonimmigrants must show proof of vaccination, by an accepted vaccine, at all U.S. air ports of entry. Additionally, the proclamation revokes country-specific limitations of previous proclamations and extends the requirement to demonstrate negative COVID-19 viral test result.
There are exemptions to this requirement:

  • U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents
  • Diplomats, employees of international organizations, and similar
  • Citizens of a foreign country where the availability of COVID-19 vaccination is limited
    • Section 4(a)(v) of Presidential Proclamation of October 25, 2021 charges “the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the Director of the CDC,” with “maintaining a list of countries where the availability of COVID-19 vaccination is limited, with such countries defined as those where less than 10 percent of the country’s total population has been fully vaccinated with any available COVID-19 vaccine or are otherwise determined by the Director of the CDC to qualify as countries where the availability of COVID-19 vaccination is limited.”
  • Noncitizens for whom a COVID-19 vaccination is contraindicated or inappropriate

Individuals who qualify for an exemption will be required to become fully vaccinated within 60 days of their entry to the United States.

There is no exception for religious reasons or other moral convictions.

Resources:
A Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-⁠19 Pandemic
NAFSA’s analysis of COVID Vaccine and Test Requirements for U.S. Entry

September 24: University District Community Art & Vaccine Pop-Up

The City of Seattle will host a vaccine pop-up in the University District on September 24 from 2:00 – 5:00 PM. The event is open to public and for anyone who has not yet received a vaccine. For further details, review the Facebook Event page.

September 15: U.S. Department of State clarifies language around travel restrictions, National Interest Exceptions

Update: Link removed per 10/25/2021 presidential proclamation. The U.S. government clarified current travel restrictions and National Interest Exceptions. This is not a change in policy, but a simplified resource for travelers to the U.S. The sections below on travel restrictions and NIE have been updated with this link.

September 14: U.S. Department of State announces expansion of interview waiver eligibility

The U.S. government announced that the Department of State has authorized consular officers to waive the visa interview requirement for F, M, and J visa applicants, if they choose, through the end of 2021. This includes individuals previously issued any type of visa, and who have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived, and who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. In addition, first-time F, M, and academic J visa applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), provided they have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility may also have their interview waived at the discretion of the consular officer.

August 20: Back-to-School Checklist

Campus partners in the Division of Student Life have prepared a Back-to-School resource for students planning on coming to campus in September. The checklist details actions recommended for all students as well as specific actions that students traveling from outside of Washington state – please carefully review the checklist and make preparations according to your plans and vaccination status.

August 13: UW leadership announce changes to masking policy

April 26: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Announce Extension of SEVP COVID-19 Guidance

In SEVP’s Broadcast Message 2104-05ICE Continues March 2020 Guidance for the 2021-22 Academic Year, SEVP states:

“The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will extend the guidance originally issued in March 2020 for the 2021-22 academic year. This guidance enables schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the continuing public health concerns created by COVID-19. The March 2020 guidance applies to nonimmigrant students who were actively enrolled at a U.S. school on March 9, 2020, and are otherwise complying with the terms of their nonimmigrant status, whether from inside the United States or abroad. A summary of the March 2020 guidance is available below. Significantly, there are no changes to the original guidance, which will remain in effect during the 2021-22 academic year.”

Check the published FAQs for SEVP Stakeholders for more detailed information. Note that there are no changes to the original guidance, though the FAQ have been edited to reflect their continuation through academic year 2021-2022.

April 15: UW leadership share more Autumn 2021 planning resources

UW leadership launched a new resource for Autumn 2021 planning last week. Takeaways for students include that the university continues to plan for a safe return to largely in-person instruction and activities in autumn quarter. While not mandatory at this time, we encourage and hope that all students and campus community members will get vaccinated. We don’t know what state or local guidelines will be in place in September 2021, but if you haven’t been able to get a vaccine where you live, there will be vaccinations available on campus.
Additionally, Provost Mark Richards and Vice Provost Philip Reid sent a letter to all students about autumn quarter course scheduling and planning.

April 6: U.S. Department of State provides an update on Visa Services, including F and J visas

The U.S. Department of State announced consulates and embassies around the world would continue to resume visa services on a post by post basis as conditions and staffing allows. Embassies and consulates are providing emergency and mission-critical visa services as a priority. As post-specific conditions permit, missions will be phasing in routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa cases. Posts processing nonimmigrant visa applications will continue to prioritize travelers with urgent travel needs, followed by students and exchange visitors (F and J visas). If you have confirmed travel plans to begin studies in the U.S., be sure to contact the nearest embassy or consulate to determine whether you can qualify for expedited processing. If your I-20 start date is 9/29/2021 for autumn quarter, you may need to wait until later in the summer to obtain a visa appointment since UW classes do not begin until late September. Continue to monitor travel guidelines, restrictions, check visa wait times in your region, and review updates on the embassy or consulate’s web page for the most up-to-date information.

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:

Autumn 2021

Not coming to the U.S. this autumn quarter? You need a new I-20!

Students who cannot come to the U.S. for autumn quarter 2021 may need a new I-20. If you cannot come to the U.S., we have written out processes for you on this page.

New students not enrolling autumn 2021: Any undergraduate or graduate student admitted for autumn 2021 should contact their respective admissions offices (undergraduate or GEMS) for next steps.

New students who will enroll remotely autumn 2021: You may request a new initial I-20 from ISS to enter the U.S. for winter or spring 2022. This requires a new SEVIS fee*. On a new initial I-20, students will need to enroll three quarters to be eligible for CPT or OPT.

Students who started classes online in their home countries: If you started your classes online in 2020 or later, your SEVIS record is going to terminate. Please request a new initial I-20 from ISS to enter the U.S. for winter or spring 2022. This requires a new SEVIS fee*. On a new initial I-20, students will need to enroll three quarters to be eligible for CPT or OPT.

Change of Level I-20: Students who were issued Change of Level I-20s and have not traveled to the U.S. must request a new initial I-20 to enter the U.S. for winter or spring 2022. This requires a new SEVIS fee*. On a new initial I-20, students will need to enroll three quarters to be eligible for CPT or OPT.

Transfer-Pending I-20: Students who were issued Transfer Pending I-20s and have not traveled to the U.S. must request a new initial I-20 from ISS to enter the U.S. for winter or spring 2022. This requires a new SEVIS fee*. On a new initial I-20, students will need to enroll three quarters to be eligible for CPT or OPT.

 

* Note: Students who have paid the SEVIS I-901 fee may try to transfer their SEVIS fee to their new immigration record.

I'm a student with an initial attendance I-20 (start date of 9/29/2021). Can I arrive later than the start of the quarter?

ISS does not support late arrivals to the U.S. Students with initial I-20s for autumn 2021. Students who have not arrived to the U.S. to begin autumn quarter should work with ISS and their academic departments to coordinate a winter quarter entry to the U.S.

Need to Contact ISS?

ISS is here to help!

Email us by completing our Contact Form OR make an appointment with an advisor!

You can also stop by our virtual front desk.

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 review 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.

Are there remote options available for Autumn 2021?

The UW welcomed students back to campus for in-person courses for autumn 2021. We understand that there are limited remote options for students who choose to remain outside of the U.S. The University leadership continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation and impacts of the pandemic around the world, and will provide updates as needed. Review the Autumn 2021 Planning page and the Back-to-School Checklist for additional details.

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?

There are no Go Local options available for autumn quarter 2021.

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 will 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 White House announced a new policy for noncitizen nonimmigrant travelers entering the United States. This proclamation is effective beginning November 8 and requires that all noncitizens who are nonimmigrants must show proof of vaccination, by an accepted vaccine, at all U.S. air ports of entry. Additionally, the proclamation revokes country-specific limitations of previous proclamations and extends the requirement to demonstrate negative COVID-19 viral test result.

See the post dated October 25 in the UW Announcements & Government Updates section at the top of the page for more details regarding the latest travel proclamation.

All students should continue to monitor the State Department’s Visa News, local U.S. embassy or consulate’s information for your region, airline international travel guidelines, the CDC website, and ISS Office’s Coronavirus information for F1 & J1 students page. Be sure to review up to date information before your scheduled travel.

How does the National Interest Exception for travel apply to me?

The U.S. Department of State recently published a clarified summary of the current travel restrictions and National Interest Exception policies.

New Students with an Autumn Quarter Start Date:

Students beginning their studies in autumn quarter 2021 can enter the U.S. if they have valid I-20s. Their I-20s will have start dates beginning on 09/29/2021 and they can enter the U.S. under normal rules, 30 days before that date, on August 30, 2021. This will also apply to students with change of level or transfer pending I-20s.

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

We recommend reviewing the Travel Restrictions Fact Sheet for updated information on land border closures with Canada and Mexico. “Non-essential” travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature. These measures were implemented in April 2020 and have been extended since then. In March, the border closure was extended again through April 21, 2021. 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 check 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 enter the U.S.?

At this time, international students must have the following documents in order to travel to the U.S. in F-1 status:

  • Valid I-20 issued by the UW (valid travel signature required if you are returning to the U.S. to continue studies)
  • 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 wish additional information may request a Travel Support Letter to carry 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.

Vaccine Requirements

I can't get vaccinated in my home country. Can I get the vaccine in the U.S.?

Yes. You will be able to get a vaccine when you come to the U.S. Please check the university’s vaccine page for more information.

Though there have been news reports about upcoming vaccine requirements for international travel, no requirement has been implemented at this time.

What if I am not fully vaccinated by the start of classes?

Though you are required to be vaccinated to attend autumn quarter, you can be on campus with a mask while you wait for fully vaccinated status. Please refer to the university’s page on the vaccine for more information.

I'm a student that works on campus. Do I have to fill out two forms about my vaccination status?

Yes. The university requires you to complete the form as a student and as an employee.

Which vaccines meet the requirement?

The University allows vaccines approved by the World Health Organization. See the University page for more details.

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 determine if any of the options apply to you (practical training, transfer out, etc.).
  • Contact your country’s embassy here in the U.S. to determine if any accommodations could be made to assist with your return home.
  • Use the Contact ISS 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.

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.
However, students studying outside the U.S. who were originally issued Transfer Pending or Change of Education Level forms I-20 may apply full-time study from outside the U.S. to benefit eligibility. 

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.
However, students studying outside the U.S. who were originally issued Transfer Pending or Change of Education Level forms I-20 may apply full-time study from outside the U.S. to benefit eligibility. 

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 expire.

Note: Unpaid work also counts as OPT activity. 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 “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 layoffs 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.

Insurance

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
    • Review ISS instructions and information on the Severe Economic Hardship work authorization application
    • Special Student Relief work authorization requires a Federal Register announcement from the U.S. government for Special Student Relief; there has not been such an announcement currently.
    • If your request is approved, you may be able to work off-campus in one-year intervals up to the expected date of completion of your current course of study. Review 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(ii). USCIS Special Situations
    • Additional emergency aid resources
  • 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 StudentFiscal 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.