Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ for Current International Students

Last updated November 24, 2020. 

Travel and Immigration

I am an international student arriving from a country outside of the U.S. or from a designated hotspot. Do I have to quarantine between my initial on-campus test (at move-in) and my second on-campus test (5-7 days later)?

Yes. International students arriving from outside of the U.S. and students arriving from states that are designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health as hotspots, public health guidance from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to Philadelphia. To minimize risk of spreading COVID-19, the University will require all international students and students arriving from “hotspot” states to take an additional test within 5-7 days of when their first on-campus test was administered (at move-in). Regardless of result, these students will still be asked to quarantine upon arrival to campus for the full 14 day period.

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

Ensure you have your original immigration documents (passport, visa and I-20/ DS-2019 ) and that they are valid. You may leave the US 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.  

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

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.

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. 

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.

I need a Social Security Number. How can I apply for one? Can the process be completed online?

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. 

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

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. In addition, please consult with your ISSS advisor about employment eligibility before taking any off-campus job.  Any unauthorized employment will jeopardize your student status.

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.

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. 

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. As of July 2020, there is not yet a timeframe as to when visa services will resume at all locations, and this will likely take place on a case-by-case basis and depend on local circumstances. 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 these are not commonly granted.

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 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).

Guidance about Online Coursework

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

For Fall 2020, the University is permitting all undergraduates to designate any course as pass/fail. All undergraduate students in all undergraduate Schools will be able to opt in, by October 30, to take any or all of their courses pass/fail, including courses taken to satisfy major or general education requirements, and these courses will not count against the total number of pass/fail courses allowed by the School.

ISSS Operating Schedule and Procedures

Will ISSS be open for Summer and Fall 2020?

In accordance with the University’s guidance about remote work for faculty and staff and its phased return-to-work policies for Fall 2020, ISSS will be providing all services remotely as of Friday, March 13, 2020 and until further notice. For updates regarding our operations, please check the ISSS website regularly.

Employment-related FAQ (OPT, CPT)

I am an undergraduate student will be outside of the United States for the Spring 2021 semester. Can I hold a work-study position or some other on-campus employment role?

Beginning on January 1, 2021, enrolled Penn undergraduate students employed in on-campus employment positions (e.g., student worker or work study positions) are expected to perform that work from within the US. Undergraduate students who are outside the US for spring semester should not hold on-campus employment roles. See the Global Support Services website ("Spring 2021 Guidance" section) for further information and guidance.

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.

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 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.

Can I work remotely on OPT while outside of the US? 

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.

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. 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.  

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

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 Summer and Fall 2020, 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. Please check the City of Philadelphia’s website regularly for updates on the city’s plans to control the spread of COVID-19.

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, 2020 for additional information.

Am I eligible to receive a US Government’s CARES Act stimulus payment? If I received it, what should I do?

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.

How can I stay up-to-date on the changing immigration landscape?

In addition to checking the ISSS website and emails from ISSS, the following resources may be of use:

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