Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ for Continuing International Students
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Last updated January 13, 2021.
Per the guidance of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), an in-person component is required if you intend to arrive or stay in the United States during the Spring 2021 semester, even if you had an in-person component during Fall 2020.
Graduate and professional students: Please inform your department advisor or program director about your Spring 2021 arrival plans so that they can enroll you in the appropriate course with an in-person component.
Undergraduate students: You will be enrolled in a course with an in-person component by the University Registrar after the start of the term.
Per SEVP guidance, continuing international students who were actively enrolled at a U.S. school on March 9, 2020, and otherwise complying with the terms of their nonimmigrant status (including transfer-in students with active SEVIS records) will continue to be permitted to pursue a full online course of study from inside the United States or from abroad.
The “five-month rule” continues to be suspended. Students who were actively enrolled at a U.S. school as of March 9, 2020 may continue to remain outside the US for more than five months (if otherwise maintaining their immigration status).
Per Penn Global Support Services (GSS):
- “[Undergraduates] who are outside the US for spring semester should not hold on-campus employment roles.”
- “[G]raduate students who continue to be displaced internationally due to COVID may continue to be paid for teaching and research completed outside of the US as long as their service is a required component of their degree (Teaching/Research Fellows) or their school determines their teaching or research to be an essential component of their degree (Teaching/Research Assistants).”
Please consult the GSS website for further information. ISSS cannot provide detailed guidance on issues related to the Penn payroll.
- On January 12, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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 is in effect as of January 26, 2021.
This requirement is separate from the visa application process. All Presidential Proclamations restricting travel due to COVID-19 remain in place, and continue to apply to subject potential travelers regardless of their test results or vaccination status. Read more about the requirement here.
- Per the University’s guidance for Spring 2021, “Students returning to campus in January will be expected to participate in a quiet period for two weeks, limiting their contact to those in their immediate “pods” and leaving their residence only for essential reasons.” Please also note that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has issued an order requiring that travelers arriving from other countries and states must either have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entering Pennsylvania or quarantine for 10 days upon arrival.
- Additionally, "as students arrive on campus for the spring semester, they must receive COVID-19 gateway testing (also known as day-of-arrival testing)." Please see the Student Testing Resources page for detailed information on testing requirements.
Please consult the resources on Global Support Services’ COVID-19 Travel Updates page for more information on global quarantine requirements, medical screenings, and entry/exit restrictions.
Please consult these resources for the most up-to-date information. ISSS does not provide guidance on COVID-19 screening or quarantine requirements, housing, or COVID-19 restrictions in countries outside of the United States.
For information on University operations, guidance and resources (testing information, quarantine requirements, housing, COVID-19 statistics, etc):
- Penn Coronavirus response website
- Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
- Penn Residential Services: Spring 2021 planning
For information on global quarantine requirements, entry/exit restrictions, medical screening requirements, etc:
In line with University guidance, ISSS will continue to operate remotely until further notice. We will continue to provide virtual advising and offer a variety of virtual engagement opportunities. All in-person services at the ISSS office are currently suspended.
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 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 does not override any existing travel restrictions.This letter 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).
Ensure you have your original immigration documents (passport, visa and I-20/ DS-2019 ) and that they are valid. You may leave the U.S. without a recently signed I-20/DS-2019, but you will need a valid travel signature to return to the country.
Please note that due to ongoing travel restrictions, public health guidance, and immigration policy changes, international travel is strongly discouraged at this time. Students who leave the United States may face challenges when attempting re-entry.
Generally speaking, you are not required to notify ISSS before leaving the country. However, given the uncertainty of travel restrictions, public health guidance, and immigration policy changes, international travel is strongly discouraged at this time.
If you have already left the country, please update your contact information in Penn InTouch once you arrive to your final destination.
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 is excerpted here.
For J-1 students, you must have an original DS-2019 with a valid travel signature for travel or other official purposes. Please contact your assigned advisor if you need to have an original copy shipped to you.
In March 2020, SEVP issued an exemption allowing students to maintain a valid SEVIS status while taking courses full-time from inside the US or from abroad. This guidance is also valid for Fall 2020 and Spring 2021. Additionally, please consult with your ISSS advisor about employment eligibility before taking any off-campus job, as engaging in unauthorized employment will jeopardize your student status.
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.
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.
It is also important to have the valid travel documents (passport, visa, I-20/DS-2019).
As of July 16, 2020, students traveling from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas have been granted an exemption from the Presidential Proclamations that suspended entry from these areas. J-1 students from these areas may contact the nearest US embassy or consulate to request an exemption. Please note this does not guarantee your admission into the United States at the port of entry, which will still be subject to an inspection by Customs and Border Protection. You can use this template to request a support letter from your School. Additionally, you may be required to self-isolate for 14 days before returning to Penn's campus.
Please see this page on the website of Penn Global Support Services for resources related to travel restrictions and entry/exit requirements for countries 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.
In March 2020, the US Department of State suspended all routine visa services at all US Embassies and consulates. A "phased resumption" of these services began in July 2020. Resumption of visa services will take place on a case-by-case basis and depend on local circumstances and public health guidance. Please check with your local embassy/consulate (https://www.usembassy.gov) for updates about its operating procedures. Each consulate will also have their own procedure to request an expedited appointment; please note that these are not commonly granted.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, all Social Security Administration offices have suspended most face-to-face services. Students who need to schedule an appointment to apply for an SSN should reach out to their local SSA office for further assistance. The Philadelphia SSA office can be reached at 215-564-2363. It is not possible to apply for a Social Security Number online or over the phone.
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.
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.
You must be in the US at the time of your OPT application. If you are completing your degree program this summer, you must return by August 7, 2020 to apply for OPT. If you are completing in the fall, you must return by December 22, 2020.
Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, can engage in remote work on a temporary basis due to COVID-19 if their employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means. Please consult your employer to determine the feasibility of working remotely. You will still need to do OPT reporting through iPenn in order to keep your SEVIS record active. See the SEVP policy guidance for more information.
There are a number of things you should consider before traveling while your OPT status is pending. Additionally, due to ongoing travel restrictions, public health guidance, and immigration policy changes, international travel is strongly discouraged at this time. Please see the website of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for more detailed guidance.
It is unclear how the current situation will continue to 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. Processing times can be checked on the USCIS website.
The Penn Police Department will continue to patrol campus and the surrounding area to ensure the safety of students. As the campus area may be less populated while most in-person activities are suspended, you should 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. Please check the City of Philadelphia’s website regularly for updates on the city’s plans to control the spread of COVID-19.
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, 2020 for additional information.
Please consult the Sprintax website for more information about eligibility for the stimulus check and what you should do if you think you have received it in error.
In addition to checking the ISSS website and emails from ISSS, the following resources may be of use:
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Newsroom: For news and information about the Student and Exchange Visitor Program
- Whitehouse.gov: For information on proclamations and orders by the President of the United States
- NAFSA Coronavirus Critical Resources portal
- 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 email@example.com.
- For any needs related to Penn’s order to leave campus housing, contact Student Intervention Services at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For general questions, please see https://coronavirus.upenn.edu/students-families.