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Coronavirus/COVID-19 Updates for the UIC International Community

This page consolidates information regarding coronavirus/COVID-19 for the UIC international community as it relates to immigration status, travel guidance, support resources, frequently asked questions (FAQs) and more. For the latest news and information regarding the UIC response to COVID-19, please visit today.uic.edu/coronavirus.

 

Please note that responses posted here are based on available guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) via their SEVP COVID-19 FAQs for Stakeholders document. On June 4, 2020, SEVP noted that they have not yet released guidance for the fall 2020 semester and that temporary procedural adaptations outlined in the document apply through the summer session only.


Updated: June 19, 2020
 

General Information for the UIC International Community

Is UIC’s Office of International Services open during the COVID-19 pandemic?
In response to federal and state government recommendations regarding size limits for group gatherings, the Office of International Services has moved all services online, effective immediately, March 17. Our office in SSB will be closed to visitors until further notice, but our services remain available. Read the full announcement including information on how the UIC international community can connect with us for advising, document processing and workshops. Contact OIS at (312) 996-3121 or ois@uic.edu, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I would like to make an appointment with an OIS Advisor. How can I do that?
OIS Advisors are available for phone and video appointments during our regular business hours, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Please contact OIS at (312) 996-3121 or ois@uic.edu to request a phone or video appointment. Include your name, UIN (if available), phone number and preferred meeting time and we will respond with details on how to connect.

I need to submit an immigration document request to OIS. How can I do that?
Current international students, scholars and employees can submit immigration document requests via email to ois@uic.edu. In your message, please include your full name, UIN and attach all relevant completed forms and supporting documents.

I need to collect a document from OIS. How can I do that?
An OIS Advisor will contact you via email when your request has been processed and your immigration document is ready for shipment. This email will include details on your shipping options for the document. Please note that international shipments to some countries are significantly delayed due to circumstances beyond the control of OIS. Please see the UPS Global Novel Coronavirus Update .pdf for a summary of in-country shipping conditions.

I need to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) but the Social Security Administration (SSA) is currently closed. What should I do?
While the SSA can handle some requests remotely, brand new SSN applications must be requested in-person in their offices. If you are an international student beginning work at UIC and do not already have an SSN you can use their Temporary Control Number (TCN) in lieu of the SSN at this time. Once SSA offices reopen, you will need to work with your employer/HR to have your TCN switched to your SSN. OIS can help you prepare for your SSN application appointment. If you have recently been hired for a paying job and need to apply for an SSN, please submit an F-1 or J-1 Social Security Support Letter request to OIS.

 

Information for Incoming International Students

Is OIS still issuing I-20s and DS-2019s for new international students beginning fall 2020?
Yes, OIS is actively issuing I-20s and DS-2019s for new international students who are admitted to UIC programs beginning fall 2020.

 

Will I be able to begin my UIC program in the fall semester?
Yes, while UIC administration is still finalizing the academic plan for fall 2020, new students, including international students, will be able to begin their programs in fall 2020. Students will likely have a variety of class options including online classes with synchronous and asynchronous content, in-person classes on-campus and blended classes which will include both in-person and online content. OIS and academic departments are committed to working with international students to help them understand their options and make the best possible decisions for their personal situation. Additionally, it is important to note that SEVP has not issued guidance to academic institutions yet for the fall semester and that OIS, like other institutions, is working closely with U.S. government agencies to ensure there is a viable option in place for international student enrollment and immigration status maintenance that takes into consideration the safety of our community.

Will I be able to enter the U.S. in time to begin the fall 2020 semester?

The fall 2020 semester begins on August 24. There are many variables which affect your ability to enter the U.S. on or before that date. Things to consider include:

  • Your I-20 or DS-2019. You must have an I-20 or DS-2019 from UIC and enter no more than 30 days prior to and no later than the program start date list on the document.
  • Your visa. You will need a valid, unexpired F-1 or J-1 visa to enter the U.S. If you need to apply for your visa, check with your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate regarding appointment and processing wait times. Many embassies and consulates have had services significantly impacted by COVID-19 and may currently have longer than normal wait times.
  • Your passport. You will need a valid, unexpired passport to reenter the U.S. Consult your home country’s government on how to renew your passport, if needed.
  • Availability of commercial flights. Availability of international flights has been impacted by COVID-19. You may need to research flights early and be flexible regarding dates.
  • CDC Travel Restrictions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control continues to publish a list of travelers with restricted entry to the U.S. due to COVID-19.


Is Campus Housing available for fall 2020?
Yes, Campus Housing will be available for fall 2020 with some modifications for safety.

 

I do not think I will be able to enter the U.S. by August 24 but I still want to begin my program on-campus this fall. What should I do?

Some academic departments will allow students to arrive late but usually not past the add/drop deadline of September 4. Contact your academic department to discuss your situation. If the department approves of your late arrival date, they can issue you a letter to facilitate your entry to the U.S. Contact OIS for more details on what this letter should contain.

 

I have been admitted for summer or fall 2020 and have received my I-20 from UIC. However, I would like to defer my admission to a future term. What should I do?

Your first step is to contact your academic department to inform them of your intention to defer. If your department approves the deferral, OIS will be automatically notified and will contact you regarding the next steps for updating your I-20.

 

Information for Current International Students

IMMIGRATION STATUS

 

How does the move to online classes impact my immigration status?
SEVP has temporarily suspended restrictions on online class enrollment for F-1 students through the summer session. This means that F-1 students may maintain their immigration status while enrolled for online classes this summer provided that they are otherwise meeting full-time enrollment requirements, participating fully in classes and making normal progress toward completion of their program. This is true whether the student in studying from within the U.S. or abroad. As soon as SEVP releases guidance related to international students and online enrollment that applies to the fall 2020 semester, OIS will notify the UIC international community and provide advising accordingly.

 

Should I update my address if I have moved as a result of COVID-19 or other reasons?

Yes, if your primary U.S. or international residential address has changed, please update it via UIC Student Self-Service. If you have returned to your home country and no longer maintain a U.S. residential address (e.g. you moved out of Campus Housing), please notify OIS by sending an email to ois@uic.edu with your name and UIN. Address changes should be reported within 10 days of the move.

 

Can OIS send me an electronic copy of my I-20?

SEVP has temporarily allowed schools to email an electronic I-20 directly to the student’s email address listed in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Therefore, OIS will offer F-1 students the option of receiving their I-20s electronically for certain requests. Please see our May 8 announcement for details. Electronic I-20s will remain valid until students have a need for an updated I-20. Digital travel signatures on an electronic I-20 will remain valid for the same duration as a wet ink signature.


TRAVEL

 

Will I be able to return the U.S. for the fall semester if I left due to the COVID-19 emergency?
There are a lot of variables that affect your personal travel situation. To be eligible to reenter the U.S. you should consider:

  • Your immigration status. You must be continuing to make normal progress in your course of study and have an active SEVIS record.
  • Your travel signature. Your I-20 or DS-2019 should have a travel signature dated no more than six months prior to the date you plan to reenter the U.S.
  • Your visa. You will need a valid, unexpired visa to reenter the U.S. If you need to renew your visa you should check with your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate regarding appointment and processing wait times. Many embassies and consulates have had services significantly impacted by COVID-19 and may currently have longer than normal wait times.
  • Your passport. You will need a valid, unexpired passport to reenter the U.S. Consult your home country’s government on how to renew your passport, if needed.
  • Availability of commercial flights. Availability of international flights has been impacted by COVID-19. You may need to research flights early and be flexible regarding dates.
  • CDC Travel Restrictions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control continues to publish a list of travelers with restricted entry to the U.S. due to COVID-19.

 

I have completed my program but am unable to leave the U.S. before my grace period ends due to travel restrictions or availability of commercial flights. What should I do?
At this point SEVP has not provided guidance to extend the 60 day grace period for students unable to depart the U.S. due to COVID-19. Students in this situation should contact OIS as soon as possible to discuss other options.

 

EMPLOYMENT

 

I have an on-campus job at UIC. Can I continue working at that job this summer if I am working remotely from within the U.S.? Can I work remotely from outside the U.S.?

SEVP has confirmed that international students can continue working their on-campus jobs remotely through the summer session. This is true whether you are working remotely from within the U.S. or abroad. Schools should be able to explain how the student is providing services associated with the employment while not at the location of the employer.

 

I am a continuing international student at UIC. Can I work remotely for UIC during the fall 2020 semester if I will be outside the U.S.?

UIC administration, in collaboration with OIS, is finalizing their guidance regarding employment for international students who must remain outside the U.S. for the fall 2020 semester. There are a number of factors that come into play including immigration status, human resources issues and tax laws. OIS will notify the UIC international community and UIC departments as soon as more information is available.

 

How many hours per week can I work? Have there been any changes to the number of hours per week an international student can work as a result of COVID-19?

No, there have not been any changes to the number of hours per week and international student can work as a result of COVID-19.

 

I would like to participate in an academically required internship or other educational experience with an off-campus host. Can I get curricular practical training (CPT) authorization for an internship or educational experience that will be completed remotely?

Yes, SEVP has confirmed that CPT authorizations may be given for internships or other off-campus educational experiences that will be completed remotely provided that the employer can assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives electronically. This is true whether you are residing within the U.S. or abroad. All other CPT eligibility, application and reporting requirements still apply. You can learn more about CPT on the OIS website.

 

Does time spent outside the U.S. during the COVID-19 emergency count toward the one-year requirement for CPT and OPT?

Per SEVP, an F-1 student accrues eligibility for practical training whether they are inside or outside the U.S. during the COVID-19 emergency if the student is in Active status in SEVIS and meets requirements for their school’s procedural change plans submitted to SEVP. However, it is important to note that this SEVP guidance currently applies through the summer session only. As soon as SEVP releases guidance related to international students and status maintenance while abroad that applies to the fall 2020 semester, OIS will notify the UIC international community and provide advising accordingly.

 

Can I apply for optional practical training (OPT) from outside the U.S.?
OIS and many academic institutions have reached out to SEVP with this question. SEVP has responded to say that they are evaluating the issue and may issue additional guidance but until then they recommend reaching out to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as they are the agency that adjudicates OPT requests. Since USCIS has not yet spoken on this topic, it is the understanding of OIS that students should continue to follow currently published instructions on Form I-765 which requires a student to be physically present in the U.S. at the time of OPT application.

 

Information for F-1 Students on Optical Practical Training (OPT)

I am currently employed on OPT but my hours have been reduced and I am no longer working 20 hours per week. Am I now considered to be unemployed?
No, SEVP has confirmed that for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, students who are working in their OPT opportunities for fewer than 20 hours per week are still considered as engaged in OPT.

I am currently on OPT or STEM OPT and have been shifted to telecommuting (work from home). Do I need to submit an OPT Update Form or update my Form I-983?
No, SEVP has confirmed that students should not update their employer address in SEVIS or on their Form I-983 to reflect their temporary work from home address as a result of COVID-19.

Have the limits on OPT or STEM OPT unemployment days changed due to COVID-19?
At this point no, there have been no changes the allowed number of unemployment days during OPT or STEM OPT. SEVP is currently evaluating this issue and may provide additional guidance.

I am in a period of authorized OPT or STEM OPT and have been laid off by my employer due to the COVID-19 crisis. Am I eligible to apply for unemployment?
As unemployment rules vary by state you should contact your local or state unemployment agency for more information.

 

Information for J-1 Exchange Visitor Scholars

How can a J-1 Exchange Visitor Scholar report an additional site of activity?
J-1 Exchange Visitors requesting additional sites of activity or intending to conduct program activity at off-campus locations (that OIS is not already aware of) will still need advance approval from OIS. Scholars and departments may reach out to any OIS advisor directly or at oisj1@uic.edu prior to the additional activity taking place for next steps.

How can a J-1 Exchange Visitor Scholar request a program extension or travel signature?
OIS will accept scanned copies of the documents when requesting travel signatures and program extension until further notice. Departments and/or scholars should provide the original signed copies via campus mail to follow. Please note for travel signature requests, submission of the original DS-2019 is temporarily not required. We will reprint the document and arrange delivery by mail.  The J-1 Exchange Visitor Scholar program extension and travel signature request forms can be found on the OIS website.

 

Information for International Employees and Departments

How can departments obtain H-1B approval notices now that OIS has closed their office to visitors?
When an H-1B approval notice is received at the office an OIS Advisor will reach out to the sponsoring department whenever possible to arrange a pick-up scenario that works for all. H-1B approval notices will generally not be sent via campus mail nor by U.S. mail or courier.

Can international employees telecommute (work from home)?
In most cases, yes, international employees can telecommute but we ask that departments provide OIS with the home address that will be used for work prior to the start. For H-1B and E-3 employees, it is critical that departments provide OIS with the home address being used for work prior to the start of telecommuting because a new DOL Labor Condition Application (LCA) is currently required. Please contact OIS for guidance. No USCIS nor DOL action is required for TN and O-1 employees, however, this could change if telecommuting becomes a long-term need. Stay tuned. Individuals working at UIC on an OPT or STEM OPT authorization hosted by another school should reach out to that school for guidance on how to report changes in work location.

Can an employer stop paying or “bench” an international employee due to a reduction in services needed?
No, employers must continue to pay H-1B and E-3 employees their salary or wage as listed on the Labor Condition Application (LCA) even if the employee is in “non-productive status”, and employers must continue to pay TN and O-1 employees pursuant to the conditions of the petition previously approved by the Department of Homeland Security.

What should the department do if an international employee wants to take an extended HR-approved unpaid leave in response to coronavirus/COVID-19?
Please reach out to OIS for guidance. We will provide details on how to best manage the immigration record depending on the length of the leave and whether or not the individual will remain in the U.S. or travel abroad. Contact OIS at (312) 996-3121 or ois@uic.edu.

What should the department do if an international employee needs to make a material change to their position as a result of coronavirus/COVID-19?
Materials changes to H-1B, E-3, O-1 and TN positions include full-time to part-time status, changes in title, and other material changes. These types of changes require OIS to file an amendment with USCIS. Additional monitoring of hours may be required. Please consult with an OIS Advisor to determine if a change to a position requires an amendment to be filed with the USCIS.

What should a department do if an international resign of their own accord as a result of coronavirus/COVID-19?
Please submit a Departure Verification Form (DVF) to OIS.

How should departments advise international employees who are considering a trip abroad?
First a foremost, international employees can always consult with OIS advisors regarding their decision to travel internationally during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, March 9 OIS shared a message with the UIC international community in which we strongly discouraged all international students, scholars and employees from traveling outside the U.S. in the near future and that it is not possible to guarantee that individuals will be able to return to the U.S. according to their plans. Our guidance remains the same although we understand that the decision to travel at this point is extremely personal. Those considering international travel with the intention of returning to the U.S. should check their documents before departure and plan for any necessary updates. Visa services at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad have been significantly impacted and in many cases suspended due to coronavirus/COVID-19. The U.S. Department of State has a list COVID-19 specific country information. Travel restrictions continue to be announced limiting entry to countries across the globe. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a list of current restrictions on travel to the U.S. Those who are successful in returning to the U.S. may be subject to self-isolation/quarantine before returning to campus. Please follow campus guidance as posted on today.uic.edu/coronavirus.