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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 March 13, 2021. Please note that at this time, guidance for the summer 2021 and fall 2021 terms has not been released.

  • I am a continuing student. Can I stay in the U.S. 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 U.S. The spring guidance from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-issued March 9, 2020 and March 13, 2020-was extended for the fall 2020 semester and remains in effect for the spring 2021 term. Under the current guidance, continuing students who will study online can do so from either inside or outside the U.S.
    • Students who will enter on an ‘initial attendance’ I-20 cannot be remote during their first semester in the U.S.
    • Continuing students who have selected remote study and will remain in the US, must continue to report any changes in their 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 current SEVP guidance, students who were: 1) attending an SEVP approved university in the spring 2020 term, 2) are currently in the U.S. and 3) have transferred their SEVIS record to another school can remain in the U.S. and study remotely. The guidance does not require students to remain in the location of the SEVP-certified school that they are attending.
    • As a part of maintaining valid status, F-1 students must also update their local address with ISSS within 10 calendar days of any change.
    • 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.
  • What will happen to my I-20 and my SEVIS record during the remote period?
    • Based on the current SEVP guidance, the SEVIS record for continuing students who will study online from inside or outside of the U.S. should remain active. Additionally, continuing students with an active SEVIS record who will study remotely 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 continuing 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 U.S.
  • I am a continuing student. Can I use my I-20 and F-1 visa to enter the U.S. periodically during remote study?
    • The current guidance from SEVP confirms that continuing students who are making normal progress in their course of study will remain eligible for admission into the U.S.
    • If you are currently studying remotely from abroad and you plan to travel back to the U.S. you will need to request an updated I-20 at least two weeks prior to your departure.
  • I am currently in Canada / I am currently in Mexico. Will the U.S.-Canada/U.S.-Mexico border closures prevent me from entering the country from Canada or Mexico?
    • The restrictions on entry to the U.S. from Canadian and Mexican land ports has been extended to March 21, 2021, 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 U.S. in the spring 2020 semester and I am studying remotely from abroad. 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 U.S. Students who are currently abroad should request an updated I-20 at least two weeks prior to your departure for the U.S.
    • Incoming students who began studying remotely will need to request an updated initial I-20 prior to departure for the U.S. Students should be sure that they have followed the process for their school or program to select remote study and communicate plans for beginning in person 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 current 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 U.S. 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. Consult the SEVIS I-901 fee FAQ for more information about the SEVIS fee.
  • I am thinking of doing an internship this summer. Can I still participate in this if I am studying remotely?
    • Under the current SEVP guidance, schools may authorize Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for remote participation as long as one of two conditions is met: 1) the employer has a branch where the student will complete the training or 2) the employer has a means to provide remote supervision for the training.
    • Students who are making plans for a summer internship will need to attend a CPT informational workshop prior to submitting the application for CPT authorization.
  • Do I need a travel signature on my I-20?
    • Continuing students with an active SEVIS record who are entering the U.S. 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.
  • The current term will be my final semester. If I complete it remotely, will I still be eligible for OPT?
    • United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policies require an applicant to be present in the U.S. 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 U.S. If standard policies and regulations continue to 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. I studied remotely for the fall, will I still be eligible to apply for OPT when I return to in person study 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 current 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 U.S. during the period of study.
    • USCIS requires applicants for OPT to be present in the U.S. at the time of the application.
  • Do I need to take a full-time course load during remote study 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 U.S. as one of the primary means for maintaining F-1 status. The current 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. Students with additional questions should contact ISSS for further discussion.
    • 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.