Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ for Current International Students

Last updated 7/2/2020.

    Travel, Immigration, Housing and Safety

    I am an international student. Do I have to leave Penn?

    Depopulating campus and completing the semester with virtual classes is an important step Penn is taking to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. International students with special circumstances who applied and received University approval to remain in on-campus housing are permitted to stay on campus. For international students who live off campus, the University urges you to consider returning home but you are not required to do so. This is your personal decision.

    Will I be safe if I remain in Philadelphia?

    The Penn Police Department will continue to patrol campus and the surrounding area to ensure the safety of students. As the campus area will be less populated during this time, please exercise extra caution, and please call 215-573-3333 (or 511 from a campus phone) to report an emergency. See here for additional resources, including Walking Escort services and PennRides on Request. Additionally, please note that as of March 23, the City of Philadelphia has mandated that all residents must remain home unless they are engaged in essential personal activities. 

    I am planning to leave the US. What immigration documents do I need to have before leaving?

    Check that the travel signature on your I-20/DS-2019 is valid. Ensure you have your original immigration documents (passport and visa) and that they are valid. You may still leave the US without a signed I-20/DS-2019, but you will need a valid travel signature to return to the country.

    Do I need to notify ISSS that I am leaving the country?

    You are not required to notify ISSS before leaving the country. However, please update your contact information in Penn InTouch once you arrive to your final destination.

    I am staying in the US. Is there anything I need to do to maintain my student status?

    To maintain your student status, you must simply maintain a full-time course load online. Courses can be taken on a pass/fail basis or for a letter grade.

    How do I get a travel signature?

    Please complete the travel signature request e-form in iPenn. Once an ISSS staff reviews the e-form and approves your request, a new I-20/DS-2019 for the purpose of travel will be generated and sent to you via email. Per SEVP guidance, once printed and signed, you can use this I-20 the same as you would a physical copy. Relevant information regarding the electronic issuance of I-20s has been excerpted here for your convenience.

    Will the five-month out-of-country rule impact my immigration status if I leave the US?

    As long as you maintain a full course load online and make normal progress towards your degree, the five-month rule will not impact your immigration status.

    Will I have trouble getting back into the US even if I have a valid immigration status? 

    It is crucial that you stay up-to-date on the list of countries whose citizens may face difficulties entering the United States; these restrictions are constantly changing as the situation develops. Please see the CDC's webpage on travelers prohibited from entry into the United States for the most current guidance.

    To request a travel support letter from ISSS, please log on to iPenn and select Student Services -> Immigration Status Verification Letter (for F-1/J-1 Students). You will be required to provide your anticipated return date and upload a copy of your flight itinerary.  This is only necessary if you would like to have a DSO signed letter.

    How do I know if my home country has enacted travel restrictions/bans?

    Please see this page for a comprehensive list of travel restrictions around the world. Before you make any travel plans, it is your responsibility to confirm that neither your destination nor any transit countries have put in place restrictions that could affect your itinerary.

    How are US Embassy operating procedures being affected by the COVID-19 outbreak?

    The US Department of State has temporarily suspended all routine visa services at all US Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will continue to provide urgent and emergency visa services. This should not affect current visa holders or prevent you from re-entering the US with a valid visa. However, please check with your local embassy/consulate ( for updates about its operating procedures.

    I am a current F-1/J-1 student. Does the Executive Order from April 22 affect my status?

    The order does not impact those holding nonimmigrant visas for temporary entry (J-1, H1-B, F-1 etc.) or their ability to obtain a visa at a consulate abroad. It also does not prevent those already in the United States in any visa category from remaining here. ISSS will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates. See here for more information. 


    For students currently outside of the United States: If you are concerned about not being permitted to board your flight to the United States or being denied at the US Point of Entry, you may request a travel support letter from your academic department and/or from ISSS confirming that you are seeking entry into the country under the sponsorship of the University of Pennsylvania. Please note that this support letter does not guarantee that you will be permitted entry into the United States and is only meant to provide additional documentation of your status as an active Penn student.

    To request a support letter from your department, please contact your academic advisor or your admissions office. Here is an example of a support letter from an academic department (pdf). 

    To request a travel support letter from ISSS, please log on to iPenn and select Student Services -> Immigration Status Verification Letter (for F-1/J-1 Students). You will be required to provide your anticipated return date and upload a copy of your flight itinerary.  This is only necessary if you would like to have a DSO-signed letter.

    Guidance about Online Coursework

    Will the online courses impact my immigration status?

    Due to the extenuating circumstances, SEVP guidance dictates that you may continue to maintain a full-time course load in an online format without negative implications for your immigration status. For more general guidance on online courses, please see this page.

    I am concerned that online courses will affect my GPA. Is there a pass/fail option for my courses?

    The University is permitting all undergraduates to designate any course as pass/fail for the Spring 2020 term. You must decide whether to take your courses on a pass/fail basis by April 13. Please see Provost Pritchett’s letter from March 20 for more information. Taking pass/fail courses will not impact your visa status as long as you maintain a full-time course load.

    ISSS Operating Schedule and Procedures

    Will ISSS be open for the rest of the semester?

    In accordance with the University’s guidance about remote work for faculty and staff, ISSS will be providing all services remotely as of Friday, March 13, 2020. For updates regarding our operations, please consult our website:

    If I have documents issued by ISSS after March 13, 2020, how can I get the documents?

    ISSS is now operating remotely until further notice. No in-person services are available at this time, including document pick-up and drop off. However, you can still have your document shipped to you by filling out the shipping request e-form in iPenn. ISSS will then ship your document to the address you have provided. 

    Information about Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

    If I am abroad but have a summer internship, can I apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

    Yes. You may apply for CPT as your school allows as long as you have a confirmed internship offer and you meet the CPT requirements for the summer. Please see this page for more information about CPT.

    I may not be able to return to the US before the beginning of my CPT internship. What should I do?

    Remote work is possible while on CPT and this will not impact your visa status. However, you must first reach out to your employer and make arrangements for working remotely and then send ISSS an updated job offer.

    If I am abroad, can I apply for OPT?

    You must be in the US at the time of your OPT application. If you are completing your degree program this May, you must return to the US by May 18th, 2020.

    My OPT request is pending. Can I travel?

    There are a number of things you should consider before traveling while your OPT status is pending. Please see the website of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for more detailed guidance.  

    Do you anticipate any delays from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in processing OPT applications or issuing Employment Authorization Documents (EADs)?

    It is unclear how the current situation may impact USCIS processing times. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, processing times averaged 3-5 months. If you intend to apply for OPT, please do so as soon as possible in anticipation of any additional delays.

    Other Information and Resources

    Do I have to be in the US to file my taxes? Can I file them from abroad?

    You do not have to be physically present in the US to file your taxes. As long as you have the required documents, you may complete your tax return in your home country and mail it to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Please see this page for more information about the tax filing process and a list of required documents. Refer to ISSS’s email from February 14 for additional information.

    If I need more information about the resources available to me, where can I go?

    For academic concerns, please consult your School or your academic advisor.

    For computer or other technical problems, please consult Student IT Support:

    If you are in need of technology required for remote learning, consult Student Intervention Services at

    For any needs related to Penn’s order to leave campus housing, contact Student Intervention Services at

    For general questions, please see