Fall 2020 FAQ

Below are frequently asked questions about the impact of COVID-19, how it affects your immigration status, and other information pertinent to F-1 Students & J-1 Exchange Visitors. This page will continue to be updated as new information becomes available.

Fall Guidance for F-1 Students

On July 24, 2020, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that F-1 students and their institutions should follow DHS guidance which was issued in March 2020. The guidance enables schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19. DHS stated that they will not issue a temporary final rule impacting F-1 students for the fall school term as previously announced.

As new announcements and immigration resources develop, this page will be updated with relevant information. Check back frequently for any updates.

On this page:

New Students & Students Starting New Programs

Where can I find admissions information for new students?

The Offfice of International Admissions has many frequently asked questions and answers regarding the impact of COVID-19 at UB on their website. If you don't see the answer to your question, the best way to reach International Admissions is by email at intadmit@buffalo.edu.

Is there information specific to my degree program?

Many academic departments have created resources pages about their specific updates on topics like admissions, academics, and student services.

Some academic units include:

How can I start my New International Student Check-in?

Visit the ISS Check-In webpage for instructions on how to access your New International Student Check-In online portal. You will be required to upload copies of your immigration documents and will be provided with information about how to receive your UB card, how to submit immunization forms, registering for classes and much more.  

I am a new F-1 student and I was NOT inside the US studying during Spring 2020, how does the DHS guidance apply to me?

If you will be in the US in F-1 status during Fall 2020 semester, you must have at least one in-person class on campus. In person courses are coded as In-Person, Hybrid, or Hybrid with In-Person Exam. The 7/24/2020 US government guidance does NOT permit new F-1 students to enroll exclusively in online courses. Online courses are coded as HyFlex, Online: real-time, Online: real-time and recorded, Online: recorded not real-time. 

You do not need a new I-20 if you will study inside the US, you can use the one we already provided.

If you plan to stay outside the US and take all online courses please complete the Change of Plans e-form.

I completed a degree at UB and am continuing my studies in a new degree program at UB, how does this guidance apply to me?

If you were an enrolled F-1 student in March 2020, maintained an active SEVIS record and are continuing your studies at UB you are permitted to take all online courses.

I am transferring to UB from another US school, how does this guidance apply to me?

If you were an enrolled F-1 student in March 2020, maintained an active SEVIS record and your SEVIS record was transferred to UB, you are permitted to take all online courses.

What should I do if I don't have my visa yet?

We understand that Department of State suspended routine visa services worldwide in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As global conditions evolve, U.S. Embassies and Consulates are beginning a phased resumption of routine visa services. At this time all visa issuance questions should be directed to your local U.S. Consulate office. 

Embassies and consulates will resume routine visa services as soon as possible, but are unable to provide a specific date  for each location at this time. Information about visa appointment wait times and new updates can be found on the U.S. Department of States' website.

What if am unable to arrive in Buffalo before my program starts?

We are aware that SEVP recently released guidance for the Fall 2020 semester. ISS is working closely with campus partners to determine how this will affect each of our international students. We will communicate with students very soon about what this means for you and how you can continue planning for the fall semester.

Please also stay in contact with your academic department and/or admissions team for updates specific to your academic program. 

Fall Classes

Modes of Instruction for International Students Fall 2020

100 % ONLINE STUDY ACCEPTABLE FOR: MINIMUM 1 CREDIT P, HY, HE REQUIRED FOR:

Current UB F-1 students continuing in current program

New F-1 students who intend to enter the US for Fall 2020
Current UB F-1 students starting new program Current UB students changing status to F-1 for Fall 2020
Current UB J-1 students UB F-1 students who are re-entering the U.S. after a leave of absence or status violation with an “initial” I-20
F-1 students engaged in full-time study on 3/9 who are transferring from another SEVP-certified U.S. school to UB Former UB students currently on OPT returning to begin a new degree program
New international students who intend to remain outside the U.S. for Fall 2020 F-1 students currently on OPT transferring from another SEVP-certified U.S. college or university to UB

When will Fall 2020 class schedules be available?

Students will be able to access their schedule by July 15. Students should contact their academic advisor with any questions about their fall registration. Returning students should be assured that any updates or changes made to their schedule prior to June 17, 2020 have been saved in the HUB Student Center.

The university will communicate to students when the updated fall schedule is available for viewing along with processes for finalizing their registration.

How do I determine my course instruction mode?

Students will receive an update on July 15th from the University Registrar with information on reviewing the updated fall schedule. Students will be instructed to review the course instruction modes carefully. The specific UB Instruction Modes that will be considered “on-campus” are:

  • a. In Person (P)
  • b. Hybrid (HY)
  • c. Online class with in-person exams (HE)

Can I choose a full remote option, even if one or some classes will be held in-person?

UB will determine and clearly communicate curricular options and possibilities for students who are unable to come to campus.  Not all programs may be feasible for a complete remote option.

What would happen if UB decided to transition from a mix of online and in-person classes to fully online instruction in the middle of the fall 2020 semester?

According to the 7/24/2020 DHS guidance, F-1 students who have arrived in the US already would be able to retain their F-1 status if they continue to be enrolled full-time in UB's online classes.

How does the move to remote study after Thanksgiving impact international students?

F-1 and J-1 international students can legally remain in the U.S. after the thanksgiving break to continue their fall studies online.

International students living on-campus should consult Campus Living regarding living accommodations after the thanksgiving break.

Academic Support & Wellness

Where can I get information on Fall 2020 academic resources?

UB's Academic Affairs has created a resource page with information and FAQs for all students. Be sure to check this page often as it will continue to be updated with the latest information.

Remember, you can always contact your academic department with questions too!

What is the impact on students who are opting for online or remote accommodations because they have a health condition that puts them at risk for COVID-19?

Students with medical conditions should consult with their medical providers and request a letter to submit in support of a Medical Reduced Course Load from International Student Services. Additionally, students can request accommodations for courses and find more information for this process with Accessibility Resources.

While I am studying at home, does UB have academic support services and resources that I can access?

Many of UB’s academic support services can be accessed online and some are also offering virtual appointments to allow you to speak with a staff member.  Click here to learn about the academic support services and resources that students can access while completing their coursework through distance education.

Undergraduate students can still access tutoring services provided by UB.  All tutoring appointments will be online.  Click here to schedule an appointment with a tutor.

I am feeling stressed and anxious. Are there services offered by UB that I can access for support?

You have many sources of support here on campus, including counseling services and crisis resources. Visit buffalo.edu/studentlife/life-on-campus/health/mental-well-being for more information.

Visas & Support Letter for Travel

Can I get a letter about UB's mode of instruction for my return to the U.S.?

If you need a letter confirming UB's instructional mode for Fall 2020 for a visa appointment or for your return trip back to the U.S. please use the letter below from our director. 

What if I have an expired visa and I need a new visa?

Look to be sure that your visa stamp is truly expired. This is the sticker in your passport, given you to by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. It is only possible to get a new visa stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside of the U.S. If you are outside of the U.S., and your visa stamp is expired, you will need to apply for a new visa stamp at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate when they re-open for visa issuance.

Embassies and consulates will resume routine visa services as soon as possible, but are unable to provide a specific date  for each location at this time. Check the website for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate at which you will apply to see its current status. If the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country is not currently issuing visa stamps, please continue to monitor their website for changes.

You do not need to leave the U.S. if your visa stamp is expired. The visa stamp in your passport only needs to be valid to seek re-entry to the U.S. If you are in the U.S. and remain in the U.S. with an expired visa stamp, you do not need to take any action to get a new visa. You may do so on a future trip outside of the U.S.

Do I need any documentation to enter the U.S. if i'm starting my degree online from outside the U.S. and plan to enter the U.S. for Spring 2021?

In addition to the usual documentation needed to enter the U.S. as an F-1 student, if you began your studies at UB studies online from your home country we recommend you carry documentation confirming Fall 2020 enrollment (like a transcript) and a letter from our office.

Please use the letter below to help explain your situation in case there are questions at the border. 

Travel & Travel Restrictions

COVID-19 Related Travel Restrictions

I need a travel endorsement, what should I do?

A new signature is not required when you leave the U.S.; you will need one when you re-enter the U.S. Since ISS has switched to virtual office, we have made a new procedure for students to receive new a travel endorsement before coming back to the U.S. Please follow the instructions below:

  1. Please login to myISSS portal to submit “Travel Endorsement Request” e-form.
  2. In the e-form, you will be asked to create a shipping label in order to receive your new I-20 (with new signature).
  3. To create a shipping label with eShipGlobal, please select “Yes” for the question “Would you like more details on how to create a shipping label using eShipGlobal?” Then, choose “I will create a shipping label in eShipGlobal” as your preference. You will be asked to type your eShipGlobal confirmation number.
  4. Please check for the confirmation for understanding box and then submit your e-form.
  5. Please allow 7-10 business days for us to process your request.

I am considering international travel, what should I do?

We strongly advise that anyone planning personal or non-essential travel overseas consult current CDC Travel Notices before departing, particularly older adults and people with chronic medical conditions. Because the situation is changing daily, travel may be limited or not possible.

Students planning to travel abroad on personal trips are advised to have contingency plans in the event of major disruptions, such as the possibility of being unable to return to the U.S. due to in-country quarantines. Please carefully weigh the risks and benefits of any international travel, and review U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on COVID-19 to learn more.

Many students hope to return to campus after summer travels. If you traveled to a high-risk area for the coronavirus, we expect that you are following CDC and U.S. Border Patrol guidelines for self-isolation for 14 days.

I am considering traveling inside the U.S., what should I do?

ISS recommends considering one’s own health status and CDC guidance before making plans for domestic travel, particularly by air.

I want to return to my home country now and come back to the U.S. before the start of the fall semester. Will I have any issues returning since I will have been out of the U.S. more than 5 months?

SEVP issued guidance stating "[u]nder current conditions, if an active F student leaves the United States to complete the spring term online, their SEVIS record should remain in Active status and not be terminated. While the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, students deemed to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study. For that reason, the five-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(4) will not apply for students who remain in Active status..."

For Spring, Summer, and Fall 2020 SEVP will allow F students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study, even if they have left the United States and are taking the online classes elsewhere. Therefore as long as you are maintaining your status your SEVIS record should remain active and the 5 month rule should not apply. 

What if I cannot return to campus to resume my studies or need to take a break from studies?

It is important to understand the impact taking time off from your studies may have on your immigration status.

If you decide to depart the U.S. following the end of spring semester, please review the following information.

Also, consider these factors before making your decision:

If you still have questions after reviewing the above web pages, email isss@buffalo.edu.

I am considering travel to Canada, what should I do?

All non-essential travel to Canada is prohibited at this time. Please read the Joint Statement on US-Canada Joint Initiative: Temporary Restriction of Travelers Crossing the US-Canada Land Border for Non-Essential Purposes to determine if you are eligible to travel to Canada.

Students who are able to travel Canada are advised to have contingency plans in the event of major disruptions, such as the possibility of being unable to return to the U.S. due to in-country quarantines. Please carefully weigh the risks and benefits of any international travel, and review U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on COVID-19 to learn more.

Do the recent Presidential Proclamations suspending immigration affect F-1 or J-1 students?

The April 22, 2020 Presidential Proclamation does not currently impact non-immigrants (such as students, exchange visitors, H-1B workers, etc.).

The June 22, 2020 Presidential Proclamation does not currently impact F-1 students or J-1 students. The proclamation does suspend entry to the U.S. for certain H, J, and L non-immigrants.

It's possible there could be forthcoming Executive Orders that could affect student non-immigrant visa holders' ability to enter the United States. If that happens we will notify students as needed.

Social Distancing & Quarantine

Where can I find information on guidelines for social distancing & self-quarantine?

Students returning to campus should understand and follow both local town and UB campus guidelines for self-quarantining and social distancing based on where they are coming from and where they will stay. 

UB guidelines and information on these policies is available on the Student Life Gateway and UB's COVID informational pages

As CDC guidance on required quarantine continues to evolve, so do UB’s policies. You are no longer required to complete a 14 day quarantine. Although we strongly recommend you complete a full seven days in quarantine upon arrival to Buffalo, this is not required.

If you are coming to New York State from a domestic "Restricted Sates" you are still required to quarantine for 14 days.

Does Campus Living have information for students living on campus?

If you plan to live on campus for Fall semester please visit their Welcome Home page for details on move in, health and safety guidelines, and frequently asked questions.

Does New York state have any quarantine rules for incoming international travelers?

Yes, on September 28th 2020 Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order reminding international travelers entering New York from Level 2 and 3 countries to quarantine and fill out the NYS Department of Health traveler health form to further prevent the spread of COVID-19.

For additional information please visit governor.ny.gov.

To complete the Department of Health Traveler Health form online, travelers should visit here.

Where can I find more information?

ISS strongly recommends that you get information from authoritative sources like the CDC and UB's Student Health Services. 

On-Campus Employment

Can a new F-1 international student be hired for a Fall assistantship position if they plan to remain in their home country for the fall semester?

No, even if students have a social security number UB's Human Resources needs to have a valid I-94 (entry document) in order to process new hiring paperwork.

Can I work for UB while I am outside of the US if I am a continuing student?

Working for UB from your home country involves multiple compliance considerations and may not be possible. From a US immigration compliance perspective, doing so during the COVID-19 crisis does not present challenges. However, performing work for UB from outside the US can have significant tax and legal implications for you and for UB that are outside the ISS purview.

Due to the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak, telecommuting from outside the US may be permitted within certain parameters. Requests to do so must be considered on a case-by-case basis and must be requested and supported by your hiring department. Please ask your hiring department to contact Human Resources.

Maintaining F-1 Student Status

UPDATE- DHS broadcast message of 6 July 2020 rescinded

The court challenge to the Department of Homeland Security(DHS) broadcast memo of July 6 was successful and the government has agreed to rescind both the memo and the FAQ list it had published. We are back to operating under policy guidance issued in March of 2020.

What This Means for International Students:

  • Students do not need new I-20s that detail the University's hybrid course structure for Fall 2020.
  • Current students who are enrolled full-time and remain outside of the U.S. can remain in SEVIS Active status if they meet all other F-1 requirements.
  • Current students are not required to take an in-person course for Fall 2020. ISS will not monitor the type of course international students are enrolled for during the Fall 2020 semester.
  • Current students will be asked to complete a new e-form, Fall 2020 Reporting. ISS is required to report the physical location for each student during the fall semester.

We know this past week has been extremely stressful as this recent policy created a great deal of uncertainty. This continues to be an evolving situation, and additional details will be forthcoming from the Department of Homeland Security. We will continue to provide updates by email and on this page as they become available. Please know that we will continue to support you during these challenging and unprecedented times.

What if I'm enrolled in only online classes during the semester? Will this affect my immigration status?

SEVP issued guidance to schools permitting students to keep their visa status active while taking distance education courses in Spring, Summer and Fall 2020- even if they are outside the U.S. in their home country. This means students must continue to meet the academic requirements of their coursework while engaging in distance education, and maintain a full time course load.

Will my immigration status be impacted if I leave the U.S. during the semester?

On March 13, the U.S. government announced that as long as you maintain full-time enrollment online during the COVID-19 emergency, there will be no negative impact on your immigration status, even if you depart the United States and complete your UB classes via distance education from elsewhere. This temporary provision is in effect for the Spring, Summer and Fall 2020 terms.

What about the "5 month rule"?

The 5-month rule does not apply in this situation. As long as you maintain full time enrollment with your classes that are being taught via distance education for Spring, Summer and Fall 2020, you are considered in valid status.

I am returning from a leave of absence for Fall 2020 and I was issued an "initial" I-20 by UB, how does this guidance apply to me?

If you will be in the US in F-1 status during Fall 2020 semester, you must have at least one in-person class on campus. In person courses are coded as In-Person, Hybrid, or Hybrid with In-Person Exam. The 7/24/2020 US government guidance does NOT permit F-1 students with initial I-20s to enroll exclusively in online courses. Online courses are coded as HyFlex, Online: real-time, Online: real-time and recorded, Online: recorded not real-time. 

If you decide to take all online courses from outside the U.S., please report your plans to ISS.

I am nearing the end of my F-1 program of study and my plan was to return to my home country. I would prefer to stay in the U.S. for now. What are my options?

Every student’s situation is different. UB’s International Student Services (ISS) office encourages you to review our OPT webpage to understand your employment options. If you have additional questions, email isss@buffalo.edu so an ISS advisor can reply to your specific questions.

OPT Applications & Updates

Fall 2020 is my final semester. Can I apply for OPT from my home country?

Neither SEVP nor USCIS has provided any guidance regarding the modifications to the processing of I-765, OPT applications. At this time we do not know if applications will be accepted from outside the US, how applications will be reviewed if the student is outside the US when the application is adjudicated, or if students attempting to re-enter the country with a pending or approved OPT will be permitted entry without a job offer. All of these are currently unknown and ISS is not able to advise on how SEVP and/or USCIS will respond.

It is important that students recognize that prior to COVID-19 concerns, ISS strongly discouraged students from leaving the country while their OPT application was pending.

Our best recommendation at this time remains that students who wish to file an OPT application should do so from within the US.

Can I apply for OPT from inside the U.S. and then depart the U.S. and wait for my approval?

Yes, you may leave the U.S. while your OPT is pending; however, there are some risks to consider:

  • If there are any problems with your OPT application, and you are outside the U.S., it may be difficult for you to respond to USCIS Requests for Evidence or Rejections. Please be sure to have someone checking your US mail box.
  • If you are outside the U.S. and your OPT application is rejected or denied, it may not be possible for you to return to the U.S.
  • If your OPT application is approved while you are outside the U.S., you must have your EAD card in your possession to re-enter the U.S.  (Keep in mind that the USCIS will only mail EAD cards to a U.S. address.)
  • If your OPT is approved while you are outside the U.S., you may also be asked to show proof of employment to re-enter the U.S. If you do not have a job, be prepared to show that you have been actively seeking employment (proof of interviews, applications, etc.).

I have just completed my degree and I already departed the U.S., can I apply for OPT?

Again, we recommend that you apply for OPT from inside the U.S. because we do not know if applications will be accepted by USCIS from outside the U.S. Keep in mind that there may still be time to apply for OPT if you can return to the U.S. before the end of your program. However, given the current travel restrictions, returning in May may not be possible and as a result you might lose your OPT benefit.

My company has asked me to work remotely from home. Does my SEVIS record need to be updated to list my home as my work site?

No.  SEVP guidance states not to update the employer address information in SEVIS nor on the Form I-983 for students working remotely. However, STEM OPT requirements to submit an updated Form I-983 for other changes (new supervisor, new salary, etc.) remain in effect. See Maintaining Status on STEM OPT for additional information.

We recommend that if you are working remotely you save documentation from your employer about your current work situation.

Can I use the ISS office address as my mailing address on my I-765 application?

At this time, we ask that you do not use the ISS address for mailing purposes. Please have your documents shipped to a different location instead of ISS. If you have already submitted your application to USCIS, please complete all necessary steps to change your shipping address from 210 Talbert to a location where you can receive your own mail. For those of you with pending USCIS applications, you can use the USCIS Online Change of Address form.

My hours have been reduced below 20 hours/week because of the COVID-19 crisis. Am I failing to maintain my status on OPT?

SEVP guidance states that "[f]or the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT."

ISS also recommends saving any documentation from employers regarding the reduction in hours due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Will there be an extension or suspension of the 90-day/150-day allowed period of unemployment for OPT and STEM OPT during the COVID-19 emergency?

Recent SEVP guidance indicates that DHS is evaluating this issue but has not yet made any decisions on specific exemptions for the regulatory unemployment limits on OPT and STEM OPT. Currently there are no changes to the unemployment limits of 90 days for OPT and 150 days for STEM OPT. 

Maintaining J-1 Student Status

What guidance applies to J-1 students?

The Exchange Visitor Program issued information on Fall 2020 policy for J-1 students in late June that is available on their website

The guidance published on July 6, 2020 by SEVP does not apply to J-1 students.

What do I need to know from the EVP guidance?

For exchange visitors who are currently in “active” status in SEVIS and are continuing programs that were underway when the pandemic reached the United States, a J-1 exchange visitor’s immigration status is not in jeopardy.

J-1 exchange visitors are eligible to continue their program of study, regardless of the mode of instruction, provided they are continuing to maintain program objectives. This means J-1 exchange visitors can continue to study in the US via all remote classes, in-person coursework, or a combination of both.

Campus Operations

How will my on-campus employment be affected by UB’s transition to distance learning?

Students working on-campus may experience a disruption due to UB's transition to distance learning. ISS recommends speaking with your supervisor for clarification.  

Will my health insurance through UB cover all the required medical fees for screening and treatment of COVID-19, if needed?

If your in-network health provider deems it appropriate to test you, the COVID-19 testing kit will be covered by the UHC policy. Visit the International Student Health Insurance website for more information.

How will on campus dining work this year?

Dining at UB will look a little different this Fall. UB Campus Dining operations will be modified to meet new state requirements for cleaning, social distancing, customer limits and modified indoor seating. Visit Campus Dining and Shops' page for details.

Will student housing be open for Fall 2020?

Yes, UB is planning for university housing to be open; however, density in residence halls will be reduced to enable social distancing.

Below are some helpful links. Any questions about campus housing should be directed to Campus Living. 

SSA & IRS Issues

Can I apply for a Social Security Card right now?

In most cases new social security card applications must wait because the process requires an in-person interview. The Social Security Administration (SSA) suspended face-to-face service to the public in most field offices and hearings offices nationwide until further notice.

If you applied for a card prior to the SSA office closings, the application should still be processed. If you have questions about a pending request, please contact the office you filed at for a status update.

We recommend contacting your local SSA office to determine what services may still be available to you.

I have heard a lot about the COVID-19 CARES Act Stimulus Payments. Am I eligible to receive one? What should I do if I did receive a payment?

ISS staff are not trained tax advisors so we cannot help you determine if you are eligible for a stimulus payment. However Sprintax has created a resource on the CARES Act stimulus payments.

Please review the information provided by Sprintax to determine your eligibilty. If you have questions about this information you can contact Sprintax directly using their contact information listed in the article.

If you received a stimulus payment ISS recommends not to spend the money and not to cash the check (if you received a physical check) until you confirm that you are eligible to keep it. 

I received a stimulus payment but I am not eligible. How do I return it?

As of May 6, 2020 the IRS insructions for returning a stimulus pamyent issued incorrectly are listed in Question 41 on their FAQ page. If you do need to return the stimulus payment, ISS recommends that you keep copies of the check, any correspondence you have about the payment, and to consider sending any mail with a reliable delivery service (e.g. UPS, FedEx) that you can track for delivery confirmation.