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.
Department of Homeland Security has not yet announced that F-1 students can take more than 3 credits of online courses for the Fall 2021 semester. At this time, we are recommending that students be prepared to meet the in-person course requirements described below. We will continue to update this page as we learn more.
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 email@example.com.
Many academic departments have created resources pages about their specific updates on topics like admissions, academics, and student services.
Some academic units include:
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.
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.
First be sure to consider the late arrival deadline for the semester. For details on that refer to our New Students section.
We are waiting to see if SEVP will release updated guidance for the Fall 2021 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 semester.
Please also stay in contact with your academic department and/or admissions team for updates specific to your academic program.
The University at Buffalo is issuing electronic I-20s in accordance with SEVP Guidance. An original I-20 should not be required for your visa interview, at the Port of Entry or for most purposes once you arrive in the U.S. We highly recommend that you print the I-20 when you receive it by email, since not all agencies will allow you to show an electronic I-20 on your phone or computer.
UB is offering courses in a variety of instruction modes. You must be enrolled in in-person courses if you plan to study inside the U.S. and to qualify for SEVIS registration. The three modes of instruction that qualify as meeting the "in-person requirement" are:
|100 % ONLINE STUDY ACCEPTABLE FOR:||MINIMUM 1 CREDIT P, HY, HE REQUIRED FOR:|
Current UB F-1 students continuing in current program, if they were engaged in full-time study on March 9, 2020
|New F-1 students who intend to enter the US for Spring 2021|
|Current UB F-1 students starting new program at UB, if they were engaged in full-time study on March 9, 2020||F-1 students who began their program online outside the U.S. in Fall 2020 and who will enter the U.S. to continue studies in Spring 2021.|
|F-1 students engaged in full-time study on March 9, 2020 who are transferring from another SEVP-certified U.S. school to UB for Spring 2021||F-1 students who entered the U.S. to begin a new program in summer 2020 or Fall 2020 and were not enrolled in F-1 status on March 9, 2020.|
|New international students who intend to remain outside the U.S. for Spring 2021||Former UB students currently on OPT returning to begin a new degree program (if they were not enrolled on March 9)|
|F-1 students currently on OPT transferring from another SEVP-certified U.S. college or university to UB (if they were not enrolled on March 9)|
|Current UB students changing status to F-1 for Spring 2021|
|UB F-1 students who are re-entering the U.S. after a leave of absence or status violation with an “initial” I-20|
Students must review their course instruction modes carefully. The specific UB Instruction Modes that will be considered “on-campus” are:
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.
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.
Department of Homeland Security announced that they will extend the guidance issued in March 2020 into the Spring 2021 semester. Although we are still waiting for more specific details, we can share the following:
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. This implies that you must have been enrolled on March 9, 2020 to qualify for all online study. We are still waiting for confirmation from DHS that this requirement will stand. At this time, we recommend that any student who was NOT enrolled at a U.S. school on March 9 be prepared to enroll in 1 in-person course for Spring 2021 to maintain status while studying inside the U.S.
There are still some situations (transfer students, for example) where we need additional guidance before we can advise on specific student situations.
SEVP issued temporary guidance to schools permitting students to keep their visa status active while taking distance education courses even if they are outside the U.S. in their home country. Students must continue to meet the academic requirements while engaging in distance education, and maintain a full time course load.
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 and Spring 2021 terms.
The 5-month rule does not apply as long as you maintain full time enrollment. This applies for Spring 2020, Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters.
If you will be in the US in F-1 status during Spring 2021 semester, you must have at least one in-person class on campus. The current guidance does NOT permit F-1 students with initial I-20s to enroll exclusively in online courses. In person courses are coded as In-Person, Hybrid, or Hybrid with In-Person Exam.
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., instead of returning to the U.S. for Spring, please report your plans to ISS.
The Exchange Visitor Program issued information for J-1 students that is available on their website. For Spring 2021 ISS recommends new J-1 students to take at least one in-person credit. Continuing students can study online without impacting their J-1 status.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Traveling during this time is a personal decision. We strongly advise that anyone planning personal or non-essential travel overseas consult current CDC Travel Notices before departing. Because the situation is changing daily, travel may be difficult.
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, lack of flights or travel bans. Please carefully weigh the risks and benefits of any international travel. We encourage you to review U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on COVID-19 to learn more.
If you traveled to a high-risk area for the coronavirus before returning to campus, we expect that you are following the New York State Travel guidance as well as UB's Health and Safety guidance on quarantine and testing.
On January 12, 2021, CDC issued an Order requiring all air passengers arriving to the US from a foreign country to get tested no more than 3 days before their flight departs and to provide proof of the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight. This Order will go into effect on January 26, 2021.
For more information please refer to the CDC's website.
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..."
As long as the temporary guidance remains active 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.
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 fall 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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. Effective November 21, 2020, the Canadian government has announced new requirements that all travelers with a final trip destination of Canada must submit information through the ArriveCAN mobile app or online portal. For the most up to date information, refer to: https://travel.gc.ca/covid-19-travel.
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.
If you need a letter confirming UB's instructional mode for Fall 2021 for a visa appointment or for your return trip back to the U.S. please use the letter below from our director.
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.
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/Spring 2021 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.
At this time the vaccine is not required for students, faculty or staff. Any future or additional information about vaccine requirements will be determined by New York State and SUNY, and then communicated to the campus by UB. For additional details please refer to UB's FAQ on the topic.
Please visit UB’s COVID-19 FAQs page regarding being a member of the UB community and receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. You can also check your eligibility for the vaccine on this page. If you choose to make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment at this time, we recommend that you bring proof of New York State residency (such as a utility bill or student transcripts showing your address), and well as proof that you are a currently enrolled student (a copy of your course schedule and student ID card).
For additional information about COVID-19, please visit the CDC COVID-19 webpage.
UB will follow the system wide mandates SUNY announced recently. Detailed information is available on UB's COVID FAQ page.
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.
If you plan to live on campus please visit their Resident Guide page for details on move in, health and safety guidelines, and frequently asked questions.
Details on quarantine for students on campus who may be experiencing illness, or have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus are available on their Quarantine Information for Students page.
ISS strongly recommends that you get information from authoritative sources like the CDC and UB's Student Health Services.
Students working on-campus may experience a disruption due to UB's transition to distance learning. ISS recommends speaking with your supervisor for clarification.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, you may leave the U.S. while your OPT is pending; however, there are some risks to consider:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In some 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 field offices and hearings offices nationwide until further notice. Other field offices require a pre-scheduled appointment.
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.
If you find yourself in a critical situation related to the Social Security Administration and tried to contact your local Social Security office or Card Center, but have been unsuccessful, please contact us. We may be able to assist in contacting them if there is a true emergency.
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 first payment and second payment.
Please review the information provided by Sprintax to determine your eligibility. If you have questions about this information you can contact Sprintax directly using their contact information listed on their website.
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.
As of May 6, 2020 the IRS instructions for returning a stimulus payment 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.