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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 or the Circle Back to Campus Plan which outlines details for the fall 2020 semester at UIC.

Updated: August 7, 2020

 

Recent OIS Communications Related to COVID-19

July 31 – Continuing UIC International Student Virtual Town Hall Recording
July 31 – New UIC International Student Virtual Town Hall Recording
July 24 – DHS Further Clarifies Fall 2020 Guidance
July 22 – Supporting International Students Fall 2020 Initiatives
July 22 – Continuing International Student Status Update Form & FAQs
July 16  New International Student Update Form & FAQs
July 14 – DHS Rescinds Guidelines on Fall 2020 F-1 Student Enrollment & Status Maintenance

 

General Information for the UIC International Community

What is UIC’s academic plan for the fall 2020 semester?
UIC has adopted a hybrid model of instruction for the fall 2020 semester which will include in-person, blended and online classes for undergraduate and graduate students. More details and information on college-specific application of the hybrid model can be found in the 
Academics and Instruction section of the Circle Back to Campus plan.

Is the Office of International Services open during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Office of International Services continues to provide advising, services and programs online. However, our physical office remains closed to visitors until further notice. Members of the UIC international community and our colleagues across campus can connect with us 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 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?
Members of the UIC international community and our colleagues across campus may 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. Immigration request forms can be found on our website for international studentsscholars and department administrators.

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 could be delayed due to circumstances beyond the control of OIS. Please read how UPS is responding to the coronavirus for updates.

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. SSA has advised that new applicants should call their nearest SSA office for guidance on in-person appointments. 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.

What does OIS know about U.S. Embassy and Consulate operations abroad?
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted operations at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad. Some locations remained closed while others are slowly beginning to open with limited services and longer than usual appointment and processing times. The U.S. Department of State maintains a list of country-specific information on COVID-19 which includes links to nonimmigrant and immigrant visa information. While the Office of International Services cannot directly impact U.S. Embassy or Consulate operations, please notify our office at ois@uic.edu if you are having any issues related to visa appointments or processing so that we are aware and can assess our ability to support you.

What are the self-quarantine recommendations for individuals newly arriving and returning to campus this fall?
Individuals newly arriving and returning to campus from locations outside the state of Illinois are asked to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days prior to engaging in any campus activity that requires physical presence (e.g. in-person/blended class, lab work, employment). Frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to self-quarantine recommendations for the UIC international community are posted here and will be updated as more information becomes available.

 

Information for Incoming International Students

Can I get a recording of the New UIC International Student Virtual Town Hall from July 31?
Yes! Please find the event recording here.

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.


Can I begin my UIC program entirely online from abroad?
Yes, new UIC students, including international students, will be able to begin their programs entirely online should they need to do so. You should discuss this option with your academic department to confirm that your classes will be available online and to get support for class registration. After you have connected with your academic department, notify OIS so that we may update your SEVIS record and I-20 as needed. If a new I-20 is necessary, you will have the option to receive that document electronically, via regular post, or via express mail (at your expense). If you reside in a country under U.S. export control restrictions (Cuba, Crimean Region of Ukraine, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela) please contact OIS to confirm your eligibility to participate in online classes from abroad prior to registration.

Are online classes of good quality and will I be able to participate if I am outside Chicago's time zone?
Online learning has existed within higher education for many years in the U.S. UIC and universities across the country have offered individual classes and full programs online long before the COVID-19 pandemic. This experience and infrastructure for online learning has allowed teachers to transition classes typically offered in-person to the online space in innovative and engaging ways. You can read about one success story of the transition to online learning in the College of Engineering here. Additionally, UIC administration is aware that students may not be able to engage in online classes delivered only in a synchronous format. Therefore, instructors are encouraged to design content so that students can engage asynchronously, meaning, on their own time.

I plan to begin my UIC program this fall from abroad, can I waive the fee for the CampusCare Student Health Benefit Program?
International students who are residing outside of the United States while taking courses at the University of Illinois should submit a waiver with their current insurance information at this link: https://campuscare.uic.edu/. For help completing the waiver please go to https://campuscare.uic.edu/waivers-reinstatement-forms/. If you are unable to complete the waiver form due lack of insurance information or any other reason, please contact the department of CampusCare at cchealth@uic.edu in order for us to assist you.

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. How late can I arrive on-campus?
In short, arriving after the program start date listed on your I-20 is not recommended as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has not made any concessions to allow for mid-semester program starts for international students within the context of COVID-19. If you believe that you will arrive before 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. If you know that you cannot arrive on or before September 4, you can contact an OIS Advisor to discuss your options, however, deferral to a future term or beginning your program online from abroad will likely be the recommendation.

If I start my program online from abroad, how does that affect my eligibility for F-1 benefits?
F-1 status begins after a student has entered the U.S. with an F-1 visa and the SEVIS record is made active for full-time study. Some F-1 benefits, including curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT), require that a student be in F-1 status for a period of time before they become eligible to apply for the benefit. International students who begin their programs online from abroad will not be in F-1 status during that time, and therefore, will not be accruing time toward eligibility for benefits. While there are other factors that go into eligibility for CPT and OPT, generally speaking, international students at UIC need to be in F-1 status for one academic year before they can apply and participate in practical training.

Can I accept an assistantship or tuition waiver as a new international student?
Yes, under most circumstances, new F-1 international students physically in the U.S. or studying online from abroad are allowed to accept assistantship positions provided they are able to perform the relevant duties. Students residing in countries under U.S. export control restrictions (Cuba, Crimean Region of Ukraine, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela) should confirm their eligibility to accept assistantships and tuition waivers from abroad with OIS. Read here for more information about fall 2020 international student support initiatives.

I have been outside the U.S. but will transfer my SEVIS record to UIC from another academic institution in the U.S. Does the five-month rule apply?
No, the five-month rule related to student transfers will not apply to students affected by COVID-19. Please contact OIS as soon as possible if you will be transferring your SEVIS record to UIC and believe that you have been outside the U.S. for five months or more so that we may handle your record appropriately.

How do I defer my admission to a future term and how does that affect my assistantship opportunity?
The first step to requesting a deferral is to contact your academic department. The department will be able to explain the process and how it may affect your assistantship. OIS does not have a role in the awarding of assistantships. After your deferral is approved by the department and the Office of Admission, if needed, OIS is automatically notified via the university system. At that point we will reach out to you regarding how you would like to obtain your new I-20.

Information for Current International Students

Can I get a recording of the Continuing UIC International Student Virtual Town Hall from July 31?
Yes! Please find the event recording here.

 

The July 7 email from OIS mentioned that all F-1 international students residing in the U.S. for the fall 2020 semester would be issued a new I-20 with a notation that they meet DHS enrollment guidelines. Is this still happening? Do I need a new I-20?

No, OIS is no longer required to issue new I-20s to all UIC F-1 international students confirming enrollment status for the fall 2020 semester. This requirement was part of the July 6 guidelines from DHS which were rescinded on July 14.

 

I am currently in the U.S. and plan to reside here for the fall 2020 semester. Can I take all my classes online?

Yes, the modified guidance allows F-1 international students residing in the U.S. to take all online classes for the fall 2020 semester.

 

I am currently outside the U.S. but plan to return to Chicago for the fall 2020 semester. Will I be able to renew my visa and/or enter the U.S. if I plan to take all my classes online for the fall 2020 semester?

While the modified DHS guidance does allow F-1 international students returning to or residing in the U.S. to take all classes online for the fall 2020 semester, OIS has heard reports that some U.S. Embassies and Ports of Entry have been asking F-1 international students to confirm that their university is offering a hybrid model of in-person and online instruction. Continuing F-1 students who need to renew their visa or plan to reenter the U.S. this fall should notify OIS at ois@uic.edu so that we can provide the necessary documentation to confirm that UIC is operating on a hybrid model for the fall 2020 semester.

 

I am currently outside the U.S. and plan to remain abroad for the fall 2020 semester and take all my classes online. Will my F-1 status remain active?

Yes, current international students with active F-1 status will remain active for the fall 2020 semester provided they enroll full-time in online classes. Please notify OIS at ois@uic.edu of your plans so that we may update your immigration record accordingly. If you are residing in a country under U.S. export restrictions (Cuba, Crimean Region of Ukraine, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela) please contact OIS to confirm your eligibility to participate in online classes from abroad prior to registration.

 

I am currently outside the U.S. and plan to remain abroad for the fall 2020 semester and take all my classes online. Can I waive the fee for the CampusCare Student Health Benefit Program?

International students who are residing outside of the United States while taking courses at the University of Illinois should submit a waiver with their current insurance information at this link: https://campuscare.uic.edu/. For help completing the waiver please go to https://campuscare.uic.edu/waivers-reinstatement-forms/. If you are unable to complete the waiver form due lack of insurance information or any other reason, please contact the department of CampusCare at cchealth@uic.edu in order for us to assist you.

 

What is the five-month temporary absence provision, and does it apply under the modified guidance during COVID-19?

Under normal circumstances, OIS must close the F-1 record of an international student who remains outside the U.S. for a period of five months or more. The international student would then need to obtain a new I-20 and F-1 visa in order to reenter the U.S. to resume in-person study. Additionally, that student would need to be in F-1 status for a period of one academic year after reentry in order to be eligible for certain benefits such as CPT or OPT. 

Under the modified guidance, OIS can maintain the F-1 record active of an international student who continues to enroll full-time online from abroad. The international student is deemed to be making normal progress in their course of study and the five-month temporary absence provision does not apply.

 

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.

 

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.
  •            Additional considerations. OIS is aware of some reports that U.S. Embassies and Ports of Entry are asking for evidence that a student’s university is offering in-person classes for the fall 2020 semester. All current international students were emailed a letter which confirms UIC’s decision to offer a hybrid model of instruction for the fall 2020 semester. If you did not receive that letter or need an additional copy, please contact OIS at ois@uic.edu.

 

Can I accept an assistantship or tuition waiver as a continuing international student?
Yes, under most circumstances, continuing F-1 international students physically in the U.S. or studying online from abroad are allowed to accept assistantship positions provided they are able to perform the relevant duties. Students residing in countries under U.S. export control restrictions (Cuba, Crimean Region of Ukraine, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela) should confirm their eligibility to accept assistantships and tuition waivers from abroad with OIS. Read here for more information about fall 2020 international student support initiatives.

 

I have an on-campus job at UIC. Can I continue working at that job 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. 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.

 

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, and 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.  

 

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. International travel remains challenging and uncertain, 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.