Coronavirus (COVID-19): International Student FAQ

Last updated 4/1/2020.

    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 the Division of Public Safety’s website for additional resources. 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. See here for more information.

    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. ISSS staff will review the e-form and approve your request. A new I-20/DS-2019 for the purpose of travel will be generated. After your request is approved, you will need to complete the shipping request e-form in iPenn. ISSS staff will then sign the form, process it, and mail it to you in time for your return to the US. ISSS will cover shipping fees incurred by current, actively enrolled students between March 13-June 30, 2020 for I-20s and DS-2019s. Travel signatures are valid for one year from the signature date.

    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.

    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 (https://www.usembassy.gov) for updates about its operating procedures.

    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: global.upenn.edu/isss.

    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. 

    Do I need to pay for ISSS to ship my document?

    In light of recent circumstances, ISSS will cover shipping fees incurred by current, actively enrolled students between March 13-June 30, 2020 for I-20s and DS-2019s. To have your document shipped to your current location, please complete the shipping request form in iPenn

    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:  https://www.isc.upenn.edu/student-remote-it-support.

    If you are in need of technology required for remote learning, consult Student Intervention Services at vpul-sisteam@pobox.upenn.edu.

    For any needs related to Penn’s order to leave campus housing, contact Student Intervention Services at vpul-sisteam@pobox.upenn.edu.

    For general questions, please see https://coronavirus.upenn.edu/students-families.