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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 Newsletter.

Updated: Dec. 22, 2021


Recent OIS Communications Related to COVID-19

Dec. 22, 2021 - International Travel & Self-Quarantine Reminders

Dec. 9, 2021 - UIC Provides International Vaccine Guidance

Dec. 5, 2021 - Winter Break Travel Reminders & COVID-19

Sept. 16, 2021 - U.S. Department of State expands waivers of in-person interview requirement for student and scholar visa applicants through 2021


General Information

Is the Office of International Services open during the COVID-19 pandemic? 
Yes, OIS is open and provides advising, services, and programs both online and in-person. However, per the University's Dec. 20 announcement, all advising and orientation programs will be conducted online until Jan. 24, 2022. During this time our front desk will be open for drop-off and pick-up services only. 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.  Many immigration requests for international students, scholars and department administrators can now be submitted online via myOIS and international student advising appointments can be scheduled via iAdvise.

Please note that OIS will be closed during UIC's winter break from Friday, Dec. 24, 2021, through Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. Please see our Emergency Information if you experience an emergency during this time.

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 your Temporary Control Number (TCN) in lieu of the SSN to begin employment. Once you are able to secure an appointment with the SSA, you will need to work with your employer/HR to have your TCN switched to an SSN. Prepare for your SSN application appointment by submitting an F-1 or J-1 Social Security Support Letter E-form via myOIS. Lastly, please be patient when working with the SSA. You can expect a slower than normal response time from their office as they work through a backlog of requests under the challenging circumstances presented by the pandemic. Multiple calls or emails to their office are strongly discouraged. 
 

Visas & International Travel

Is it ok for current international students, scholars, and employees to travel outside the U.S.?
If at all possible, OIS recommends that current international students, scholars, and employees do not travel outside the U.S. in order to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and immigration-related travel complications. The pandemic continues to evolve, and it is not possible to predict if and when new travel restrictions could be enacted that may impact your ability to return to campus. If travel is unavoidable, please review your immigration documents for necessary updates well before departure. If you must apply for a new visa while abroad, please connect with an OIS Advisor for guidance.

What does OIS know about U.S. Embassy and Consulate operations abroad? 
Operations at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While some locations have resumed normal operations, many are still operating with a backlog. To combat the backlog, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced expanded waivers of the in-person interview requirement for some visa applicants. DOS maintains a list of country-specific information on COVID-19 which includes links to nonimmigrant and immigrant visa information. While OIS cannot directly impact U.S. Embassy or Consulate operations, please notify our office at ois@uic.edu if you are having issues related to visa appointments or processing so that we are aware and can assess our ability to support you. 

What does OIS know about travel restrictions on international arrivals to the U.S.? 
Currently, there is a Presidential Proclamation restricting the entry of certain travelers into the U.S. from eight South African countries in an effort to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. Read more about this proclamation at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the White House.


Arrival, Self-Quarantine & COVID-19 Vaccines

Do I need to show COVID-19 documentation when entering the U.S.?
Yes, beginning on Dec. 6, 2021, all air travelers two and older entering the U.S. by air must show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of the flight's departure. Additionally, non-U.S. citizens must show evidence of being fully vaccinated from COVID-19. Read more about this requirement on the CDC website.

Will I need to self-quarantine upon arrival to campus?
If you are arriving or returning to campus from an international location you will likely need to self-quarantine for a period of seven days before visiting campus. Please report your travel to the UIC COVID-19 Reporting Decision Tool 24 to 48 hours prior to boarding your flight and following instructions given by the UIC Contact Tracing Team. The team will tell you how long the quarantine must last and how to safely end it.

Where should I complete my period of self-quarantine?
Students with signed contracts to live in UIC Housing may choose to complete their period of self-quarantine in one of the designated UIC residence halls. Please contact UIC Housing as early as possible to notify them of your arrival date and arrange your self-quarantine accommodation.

International students, scholars, and employees staying in private accommodations should first connect with their landlord or building management company to confirm that their accommodation will be ready and available for self-quarantine on their date of arrival. If it is not possible to move directly into your private accommodation and safely complete your self-quarantine there, you will need to arrange for temporary accommodation. Options near campus include the Holiday Inn, Marriott, Letterman, and Crowne Plaza among others. Individuals are responsible for making their own reservations and paying for their stay (please mention you are affiliated with UIC to see if the UIC rate is available to you). This information is accurate as of the posting of these FAQs and subject to change.

What are my options to obtain food and other essentials during self-quarantine?
Incoming UIC residence hall students should contact UIC Housing for food service options. Students self-quarantining off-campus can utilize Instacart along with other common grocery delivery services such as MercatoJewel, and Whole Foods.

What should I do if I develop COVID-19 symptoms during my self-quarantine period?
Visit the CDC website for a review of common COVID-19 symptoms. If you develop any of these symptoms during your self-quarantine period and are a UIC student, contact Student Health Services to speak to a medical professional. Students in Chicago can call (312) 996-2901, in Rockford call (815) 395-5870, and in Peoria call (309) 672-4977. Scholars should contact their personal medical provider (i.e. your doctor) or University Health Services at (312) 996-7420. Your doctor can give you guidance on treatment and testing options. Continue to isolate yourself until your doctor says it is safe to be around others. If you do not have an established doctor in the U.S., you can search your insurance company’s website for a physician or urgent care facility that is in the Chicago area.

What should I do at the end of my self-quarantine period?
As mentioned above, report your travel to the UIC COVID-19 Reporting Decision Tool and the UIC Contact Tracing Team will advise you on how to end your self-quarantine period. Most likely you will need to obtain a negative COVID-19 PCR test, which can be done at one of the UIC COVID-19 Saliva Testing locations.

How do I submit evidence of my COVID-19 vaccination status to UIC?
UIC requires all students, faculty, and staff to be fully vaccinated from COVID-19. Information for students can be found here and information for employees can be found here.

Will UIC recognize COVID-19 vaccines being administered outside the U.S.?
UIC will accept all vaccines currently authorized for emergency use by either the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the World Health Organization (WHO).

Do I need a COVID-19 booster shot?
UIC is encouraging everyone who is eligible to get a COVID-19 booster. Specific booster shot guidance for those vaccinated outside the U.S. can be found here.

Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot at UIC?
Yes, please visit UI Health for information on how to schedule your free COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot.


Academic and Status Considerations for International Students

What is UIC’s academic model for the 2021-22 academic year?
UIC has adopted a hybrid academic model for the 2021-22 academic year which means that classes will be offered in in-person, blended (in-person and online components), and online formats. However, beginning fall 2021, the majority of classes will be offered in person. Students are encouraged to connect with their academic departments to better understand the mode of delivery for specific classes within their school or college. International students in F-1 or J-1 status can connect with the Office of International Services with questions about class registration requirements as it relates to their immigration status.

Note that the spring 2022 semester will begin with two weeks of online instruction with the expectation of returning to in-person instruction on Jan. 24. Ready more here.

International students who need to document UIC’s hybrid academic model for the purposes of a visa interview may contact an OIS Advisor at ois@uic.edu for a confirmation letter.

If I am unable to return or arrive to campus for the start of the academic term, can I take all of my classes online?
Since most classes are being delivered in an in-person format, students are strongly encouraged to return to campus if at all possible. If you need to take all online classes due to travel delays or health considerations, please connect with your academic department as soon as possible to confirm that adequate and appropriate online classes will be available to you. Questions about your immigration status should be directed to OIS.

When is the latest I can arrive to campus?
Ideally, new and continuing international students will arrive by the start of the academic term which is also the program start date of a new initial I-20 or DS-2019. For the spring 2022 semester, this date is Jan. 10. With academic department approval and OIS notification, students may arrive up to the add/drop deadline, which for spring is Jan. 21. In rare circumstances, students may be approved to arrive after the add/drop deadline, but this can only be done in close consultation with OIS.

I am an admitted international student and I do not think I will be able to arrive to campus by the start of my academic term. What should I do?
If you are interested in starting your program online from abroad, connect with your academic department to see if adequate and appropriate online classes will be available to you. If you do decide to start your program online from abroad, connect with OIS at newintl@uic.edu to update your I-20 or DS-2019 accordingly.

If you decide to delay the start of your academic program, you must request an academic deferral from your department or UIC Admission. Once the academic deferral is approved, OIS will be automatically notified and will reach out to you in order to update your I-20 or DS-2019 accordingly. Decisions about academic deferral, including how many deferrals a student may receive, are up to the academic department. OIS does not approve academic deferrals.

If I am on-campus, what kinds of classes do I need to take in order to maintain my status?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has extended the temporary COVID-19 guidelines through the 2021-22 academic year. This means that F-1 students may engage in online learning in excess of the normal regulatory requirements due to the public health concerns presented by the pandemic. All F-1 and J-1 students physically present in the U.S. must enroll for and maintain a full-time course load. Continuing F-1 students, if needed, may enroll entirely online but classes should count toward the completion of a degree. F-1 students that have arrived on an initial I-20 must enroll for at minimum one in-person or blended class. Students are encouraged to work closely with their department to fully understand the mode of instruction prior to registering for a class.

What are my enrollment requirements as a continuing F-1 international student outside the U.S? 
Per the SEVP temporary COVID-19 guidelines, international students that were in valid F-1 status on March 9, 2020 may continue to enroll in all online classes from abroad and maintain valid status. Students in this situation must enroll full-time and should work closely with their department to ensure that adequate and appropriate online classes are available as most classes have returned to in-person or blended instruction.

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. 

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. 

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 OIS send me an electronic copy of my I-20? 
SEVP now allows 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.
 

Employment Considerations for International Students

Can I accept an assistantship or tuition waiver? 
Yes, under most circumstances, new and 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.

Can I accept an hourly on-campus job if I am not physically present in the U.S.?
At this point, F-1 and J-1 international students hired for hourly positions for the first time at UIC must be physically present on-campus in order to complete necessary HR paperwork.

If I am in the U.S., can I work my on-campus job remotely?
Yes, the SEVP temporary COVID-19 guidelines do allow for remote on-campus work provided you are able to perform the relevant duties.

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 an 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. 

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

Are there any on-campus housing options available to scholars arriving from international travel? 
While OIS cannot make housing arrangements for you, you are welcome to reach out to UIC Housing to determine what guest/temporary accommodations are available on campus and also to see what off-campus resources are available. Availability is subject to change, based on current university operations. Please also reference the OIS website for temporary housing resources and more long-term housing resources

Am I eligible to get a COVID-19 Vaccine or COVID-19 saliva test on campus? 
COVID-19 vaccinations and saliva tests are available to UIC students and employees free of charge by appointment only. Additional information regarding vaccination may be found on UIC Today. Information regarding mandatory COVID-19 saliva testing for individuals who will be physically on campus may be found here

If you have a Visitor Card (are an unpaid researcher, non-employee), please contact your UIC department administrator to confirm your eligibility for on-campus vaccination or testing. 

I am not able to get a visa interview due to COVID-19 embassy closures and I won’t be able to arrive to UIC before my program start date, is it possible to change my program dates? 
OIS continues to monitor delays in visa appointment scheduling and visa stamp issuance at embassies and posts abroad. If you are not able to arrive to the U.S. and begin your program prior to your program start date, please inform OIS (oisj1@uic.edu) and your UIC department administrator immediately, so we may coordinate any necessary program start date deferrals. If OIS defers (delays) your program start date, we will communicate with you on how to receive your updated DS-2019 form. 

Can I begin my program working remotely? How can a J-1 Exchange Visitor Scholar report an additional site of activity? 
J-1 Exchange Visitors starting a new program at UIC should keep in mind that in-person program activity is in the spirit of the J-1 EV program. Aside from the University-mandated self-quarantine period, EV scholars should be prepared to participate in their programs in-person, on campus, while following all university and local health department protocols. If you will be working remotely during your program, even for one day, you must notify OISJ1@uic.edu, so we may update your immigration record, accordingly. 

How can I receive updated immigration documents if the OIS office is physically closed? 
Once you submit your document request to our office, we will review the request and when processed, make arrangements for delivery by mail. Details on the mode of mail delivery will be communicated to you on a case-by-case basis. Please plan ahead and allow for ample time (2-3 weeks) to receive your document. 
 

Information for International Employees and UIC Department Administrators

How can departments obtain approval notices while OIS’ physical office is closed to visitors?
When an approval notice is received at the office, an OIS advisor will email a copy of the notice to the sponsoring department and the individual. If the original notice is requested by the individual, OIS can mail it via UPS to the individual’s home address.

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) may be 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 oisscholar@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? 
Material 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 resigns 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 and 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.