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Information for Remote Study Students

ISSS COVID-19 FAQ

In Person Study

Leave of Absence

Information on this page has been updated as of July 15, 2020.

  • Can I stay in the US and participate in remote study?
    • On July 14, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020 guidance that required students to participate in hybrid or in person courses as a condition of remaining in the US. The spring guidance from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-issued March 9, 2020 and March 13, 2020-will be extended for the fall 2020 semester.The spring guidance from SEVP confirmed that students who will study online can do so from either inside or outside the US. If you will remain in the US, but you will not be in Nashville, you must report your new local address so that it can be updated in your SEVIS record. The regulations require F-1 students to report any change in local address within 10 calendar days of the change. Vanderbilt students can update this information by editing the Local (mailing) address in YES (under Personal Information). This address is linked to the SEVIS reportable address in your ISSS portal profile.
  • I am an incoming student who has transferred my SEVIS record from another school. I am currently in the U.S. Can I stay in my current city?
    • According to the spring 2020 SEVP guidance for the fall 2020 semester, students can remain in the US and study remotely. The guidance does not require students to remain in the location of the SEVP-certified school that they are attending. Students who will not be in Nashville must update their local address with ISSS to reflect where they are currently living.Incoming students who have transferred their SEVIS record to Vanderbilt must complete a SEVIS check-in with ISSS prior to the start of classes. Your local address will be collected during the SEVIS check-in process.
  • I am an incoming student and I have selected remote study. Can I begin my program online from abroad?
    • Further clarification is needed to fully answer this question. On July 14, 2020, SEVP’s fall 2020 guidance that expressly allowed this was rescinded and DHS agreed to extend the application of SEVP’s spring 2020 guidance into the fall semester. The spring 2020 guidance does not directly address remote study for students with an initial SEVIS record. Additional guidance from SEVP regarding this issue may be forthcoming.
  • What will happen to my I-20 and my SEVIS record during the remote period?
    • Based on the spring 2020 guidance from SEVP, the SEVIS record for students who will study online from inside or outside of the US should remain active. Additionally, students in this situation are considered to be maintaining F-1 status while the temporary COVID-19 related measures are in place as long as they are making normal progress in their course of study.“Normal progress in your course of study” typically means that you are advancing toward degree completion at the standard pace for your program. SEVP has confirmed that F-1 students are temporarily allowed to count online classes (in excess of the maximums specified in the regulations) toward a full course of study even if they have left the US.
  • Can I use my I-20 and F-1 visa to enter the US periodically during the remote semester?
    • The spring 2020 guidance from SEVP confirms that students who continue to make normal progress in their course of study will remain eligible for admission into the US. Students who are pursuing a full course of study to the extent possible under their school’s alternative educational plans can retain an active SEVIS record and are considered to be maintaining F-1 status.
  • I am currently in Canada. / I am currently in Mexico. Will the US-Canada/US-Mexico border closures prevent me from entering the country from Canada or Mexico?
    • The restrictions on entry to the US from Canadian and Mexican land ports has been extended to July 21, 2020, with exemptions for essential travel. At this time, the border closure does not apply to air, freight rail, or sea travel between [the United States and Canada and the United States and Mexico], but it does apply to passenger rail and ferry travel between the [the United States and Canada and the United States and Mexico]. The Canada and Mexico land port of entry restrictions include as coming for essential travel, “Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions.” It is unclear whether “traveling to attend” also covers students who are studying online under their school’s COVID-19 policy and who wish to travel through land ports of entry.
  • I left the US in the spring semester and I will study remotely this fall. Will I be subject to the five-month rule?
    • SEVP confirmed in the spring 2020 guidance that the five-month temporary absence provision in the regulations will not apply for students whose SEVIS records remain in active status. You must continue to make normal progress in your course of study to keep your SEVIS record active.
  • Will I need to do anything with ISSS to return to in person study?
    • Continuing students with an Active SEVIS record will need an unexpired I-20 that bears a valid travel signature from ISSS to re-enter the US. Students should check the program end date on their form I-20 and the travel signature on the second page of their I-20 to make sure their document is valid for re-entry to the US. Students who need a new travel signature should submit a Travel Signature request in the ISSS portal at least 3-4 weeks prior to their planned return to campus.
    • Note: The spring 2020 guidance from SEVP does not directly address remote study for students with an Initial SEVIS record. However, incoming students will need an updated I-20 prior to departure for the US. Depending on your situation, the SEVIS ID on the initial I-20 that was sent to you will not change, however we will update your session dates in your SEVIS record. Updated I-20s for incoming students who will arrive in the US for the spring will be processed in September. Students should be sure that they have followed the process for their school or program to select remote study.
  • Will I need to apply for a new visa stamp in my passport?
    • Ultimately, it is the role of U.S. Customs and Border protection to confirm that a visa stamp is valid for entry. However, based on the affirmations in the spring 2020 guidance from SEVP, students whose SEVIS records will remain Active and who continue to make normal progress in their course of study will not be subject to the five-month temporary absence provision in the regulations. As such, the F-1 visa stamp should continue to be valid through its expiration date. Students whose F-1 visa stamp has already expired and are currently outside of the US will need to renew their F-1 visa prior to returning to the US.
  • I am an incoming student and I have chosen remote study. I paid the SEVIS I-901 fee already. Will I need to pay it again?
    • If your SEVIS ID number will remain the same, your SEVIS I-901 Fee payment should remain valid. You will need an updated I-20 that reflects your new in person start date before entering the US. ISSS will issue updated I-20 documents in September for incoming students who will enter in the spring. However, incoming students should note that the spring 2020 SEVP guidance does not directly address remote study for incoming students. Additional clarification from SEVP is needed.
    • If you paid the SEVIS I-901 Fee, and you have entered the US but have now chosen to study remotely, under the current guidance, you are allowed to remain in the US during the fall semester. You will not be required to return to your home country to participate in remote study. However, you will need to complete a SEVIS check-in with ISSS prior to the start of classes.
  • I was planning to do an internship this fall. Can I still participate in this if I am studying remotely?
    • As of July 14, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has agreed to rescind SEVP’s fall 2020 guidance and has extended the application of the spring 2020 guidance to the fall semester. Under the spring 2020 guidance, schools may authorize Curricular Practical Training for remote participation. It is possible that further guidance regarding employment during the fall semester will be released in the coming days.
  • Do I need a travel signature?
    • Continuing students with an active SEVIS record who are entering the US will need a valid travel signature on their I-20 or DS-2019 to enter the country. Students who will have a document issued for initial attendance do not need a travel signature to enter the US.
  • Fall 2020 will be my final semester. If I complete it remotely, will I still be eligible for OPT?
    • Additional clarification from USCIS and SEVP is needed to fully answer this question. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policies require an applicant to be present in the US at the time an OPT application is filed. The regulatory filing window for OPT is not compatible with the scenario of completing a program online from abroad without returning to the US. If standard policies and regulations apply, students who finish their program remotely may not be eligible to apply for post-completion OPT.
  • I am planning to graduate in Spring 2021, will I still be eligible to apply for OPT when I return in the spring?
    • Eligibility for Optional Practical Training requires that an F-1 student has accumulated an academic year in full-time status. Based on the spring 2020 guidance from SEVP, students with an Active SEVIS record who continue to make normal progress in their course of study will be considered to be maintaining F-1 status whether they are inside or outside of the US during the period of study.
  • Do I need to take a full-time course load because I am an F-1/J-1 student?
    • Under the standard federal regulations, full-time enrollment is required for F-1 students attending school inside the US as one of the primary means for maintaining F-1 status. The spring 2020 guidance from SEVP allows students who are making normal progress in their course of study to remain active in SEVIS as long as they are enrolled in a full course of study to the extent possible under the school’s alternative educational plans. ISSS is vetting this statement for further clarification regarding fall 2020 enrollment for international students.
    • The current SEVP guidance applies to F-1 students. The Department of State has communicated to J-1 program sponsors that remote or online means are allowed as a means of maintaining engagement in an Exchange Visitor’s program objective. This permission applies to Exchange Visitors who are already active in their programs. It does not apply to Exchange Visitors who have not yet entered the US to begin their programs.