COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

The University will deliver instruction by means of distance education through the summer II session. In-person instruction begins with fall classes on Sept. 2. Services from the Haenicke Institute for Global Education are available virtually, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Keep up-to-date on the University's response to COVID-19 at  wmich.edu/covid-19

To view frequently asked questions, please view the FAQ lists below. "Student Exchange Visitor Program FAQ" is sourced from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's ICE Guidance on COVID-19.  

Student Exchange Visitor Program FAQ         Additional WMU FAQ

Student Exchange Visitor Program FAQ

To view Student Exchange Visitor Program FAQs directly on the ICE website, please click here. Then click "Nonimmigrant Students and SEVP-Certified Schools" and select "Frequently Asked Questions". The FAQs below are accurate as of July 24, 2020.

Clarifying questions for fall 2020 based on March 9 spring guidance broadcast
Maintaining student records
Electronic Form I-20 issuance
I-901 SEVIS Fee
Full course of study requirements and online learning
Employment
Volunteering
Student transfer
Travel
General questions
Additional resources

 

Additional WMU FAQ

 

Complete list of frequently asked questions (SEVP & WMU)

 

Q. Can F or M students outside the United States obtain a visa to study in the United States if their program of study will be fully online for the fall 2020 session?

A. Whether an individual is eligible to receive an F or M visa is a decision that must be made by the U.S. Department of State and is not made by SEVP. Consistent with the SEVP Broadcast Message dated March 9, 2020, DSOs should not issue a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” for a student in new or Initial status who is outside of the United States and plans to take classes at an SEVP-certified educational institution fully online. As a result, new or initial nonimmigrant students who intend to pursue a full course of study that will be conducted completely online will likely not be able to obtain an F-1 or M-1 visa to study in the United States. If a nonimmigrant student was enrolled in a course of study in the United States on March 9, 2020, but subsequently left the country, that student likely remains eligible for a visa since the March 2020 guidance permitted a full online course of study from inside the United States or from abroad. The March 2020 guidance applies to nonimmigrant students who were actively enrolled at a U.S. school on March 9, 2020, and otherwise complying with the terms of their nonimmigrant status.

Q. Can students apply for a visa to enter the United States for a hybrid program of study with online components beyond the limitations at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G)?

A. Whether an individual is eligible to apply for an F or M visa is a decision that must be made by the U.S. Department of State and is not made by SEVP. However, per the March 2020 guidance, nonimmigrant students seeking to enroll in a program of study that includes in-person and online components beyond the limitations at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G), are able to maintain F-1 or M-1 nonimmigrant status if pursuing such programs during the fall 2020 school term. Nonimmigrant students in New or Initial status after March 9 will not be able to enter the United States to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online.

Q. Can students continue to remain in the United States if they are engaged in a fully online program of study?

A. Per the March 2020 guidance, yes, nonimmigrant students may remain in the United States to engage in full course of study online if they have not otherwise violated the terms of their nonimmigrant status since March 9, 2020. This includes students who have remained in the U.S. in active status and are starting a new program of study that is 100 percent online. These individuals do not need a new visa to continue their programs of study. Students engaged in 100 percent online coursework will be able to maintain their nonimmigrant status and not be subject to initiation of removal proceedings based on their online studies. If a student violates other U.S. laws or regulations, they could potentially be subject to removal.

Q. Can students remain in the United States if their school switches from traditional in-person or hybrid instruction to fully online instruction?

A. Nonimmigrant students pursuing studies in the United States for the fall 2020 school term may remain in the United States even if their educational institution switches to a hybrid program or to fully online instruction. The students will maintain their nonimmigrant status in this scenario and would not be subject to initiation of removal proceedings based on their online studies. If a student violates U.S. laws or regulations, they could potentially be subject to removal.

Q. Can students remain in the United States in a hybrid program of study with online components beyond the limitations at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G)?

A. Nonimmigrant students may remain in the United States in a hybrid program of study, which consists of both in-person and online components beyond the limitations at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G). Students will not face enforcement action or loss of their nonimmigrant status based on engaging in hybrid programs. If a student violates U.S. laws or regulations, they could potentially be subject to removal.

Q. Many F and M students may choose to travel home and complete the spring term remotely. Since they are still enrolled, do DSOs have to cancel their Forms I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” if they are taking classes outside of the United States? If their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records remain in Active status, will students be subject to the five-month rule?

A. Under current conditions, if an Active F student leaves the United States to complete the spring term online, their SEVIS record should remain in Active status and not be terminated. While the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, students deemed to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study. For that reason, the five-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(4) will not apply for students who remain in Active status.

SEVP will allow F and M students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study in excess of the limits stated in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v), even if they have left the United States and are taking the online classes elsewhere. This temporary provision is only in effect due to COVID-19 and only for schools that comply with the requirement to notify SEVP of any procedural changes within 10 business days.

Q. Due to COVID-19, what is the requirement for Initial status students who have already arrived in the United States?

A. Initial students currently in the United States that have reported to their school should be made Active in SEVIS and follow the guidelines the school provides to all its F and M students related to COVID-19. If Initial students have not arrived in the United States, they should remain in their home country.

Q. Based on SEVP’s guidance from January 2020 and March 2020, are schools encouraged to cancel admission for new students?

A. SEVP is not encouraging any specific action regarding new students. If a school has accepted F and/or M students but will not maintain standard operations because of COVID-19, deferment is an alternative. For additional information about deferring enrollment, refer to the How Do I Defer My Enrollment? blog post on Study in the States.

Q. Does SEVP have any guidance for students who have been asked to move out of their university housing?

A. If students are required to leave campus, they can continue to study online, if possible, either inside or outside of the United States. If students remain in the United States, DSOs should update their address in SEVIS. If there are no online classes and the closure is temporary, students can find a place to live and return to class when the school opens. For scenarios regarding school procedures and online classes, refer to the COVID-19: Guidance for SEVP Stakeholders.

Q. How should DSOs handle records for graduating high school seniors who have returned to their home country to take online classes, but plan to return to start postsecondary studies at a U.S. college or university?

A. If the school is offering online classes and students can access those courses from outside of the United States and continue to make normal progress in their course of study, they may continue in Active status in SEVIS. If students cannot engage in online study due to insufficient online access or if the school is not offering enough online courses to meet a full course load, students may enroll in less than a full course of study. Schools must provide this information SEVP as part of the required procedural change documents outlined in Broadcast Message: COVID-19 and Potential Procedural Adaptations for F and M Nonimmigrant Students. Remember, once students are accepted for enrollment at an SEVP-certified college or university, the high school should initiate a transfer in SEVIS.

Q. How should DSOs manage student records for those who were studying abroad but can no longer maintain a full course of study due to the closure of the overseas institution?

A. If a school’s overseas study abroad program closes due to COVID-19, students should contact their SEVP-certified school in the United States for guidance. Students may enroll in online or other alternative forms of education offered by the SEVP-certified school, if available. In general, students may remain in Active status in SEVIS as long as they intend to resume their course of study when classes resume.

Q. Should DSOs mark the “Study Abroad” field in SEVIS for students who have traveled back home and are in Active status, engaging in online studies from home?

A. Schools should not mark “Study Abroad” in SEVIS for students who are in their home countries unless they are attending an overseas institution as part of a formal study abroad arrangement.

Q. What address should DSOs put in SEVIS for Active F and M students who have departed the United States? How should DSOs notate these SEVIS records?

A. DSOs should update these students’ SEVIS records with the following comment in the remarks field: “Departed the United States due to COVID-19.” All addresses may remain the same.

Q. How should DSOs notate SEVIS records for Active F and M students living in the United States during the COVID-19 emergency?

A. DSOs should not provide any specific notation on these students’ SEVIS records during the COVID-19 emergency, but should update the student’s current U.S. address, if there has been a change. As a reminder, per current regulations, students must notify schools within 10 days of an address change. DSOs must update student addresses in SEVIS within 21 days of the date a school is notified of an address change.

Q. Schools have extended their academic year by a certain number of days due to COVID-19. How should DSOs handle SEVIS records for these students and what should be done for students who already applied for optional practical training (OPT)?

A. Student academic calendars and SEVIS records should be consistent. Schools should keep an official record of its academic calendar adjustment to provide to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) if a request is made and as documentation for any appropriate changes in a student’s SEVIS record.

Regarding OPT applications, DHS is evaluating related issues and may issue additional guidance. In the meantime, since U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudicates OPT employment authorization requests, SEVP recommends reaching out to USCIS for further guidance.

Q. How should DSOs manage F and M student records for students who do not have the technology resources to meet online or other alternative instruction requirements as provided in a school’s procedural change documents to SEVP?

A. F and M students unable to participate in online or other alternative instruction requirements due to the lack of available technology resources should notify their DSO. DSOs may keep these student records Active in SEVIS as long as the student intends to resume their course of study when in-person classes resume.

Q. Can DSOs electronically send signed Forms I-20 to students instead of physically mailing the forms?

A. Yes, due to COVID-19, DSOs may electronically send Forms I-20 to student email addresses listed in SEVIS. In the case of a minor students, the email address may belong to their parent or legal guardian. Schools do not need to request permission from SEVP or report their plans to electronically send Forms I-20 as part of their COVID-19 procedural changes.

Q. What methods can DSOs use to sign and send Forms I-20?

A. SEVP has identified the following methods to sign and send the Form I-20:

1) Email a scanned version of the physically signed Form I-20;

2) Email a digitally signed Form I-20 using electronic signature software; or

3) Email a digitally signed Form I-20 that contains a digitally reproduced copy of a physical signature.

Only approved principal designated school officials (PDSOs) and DSOs may physically sign or input their own digital signature to the Form I-20. Individuals who are not approved on the school’s Form I-17, “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student,” may not input a DSO’s signature—either digital or physical—to the Form I-20. Improper issuance of the Form I-20 in this manner may constitute grounds for withdrawal of SEVP certification. By signing the Form I-20 or inputting their digital signature, PDSOs and DSOs attest that they are the approved individual issuing the Form I-20.

Q. Will schools need to provide students with their original Form I-20 (ink-signed copies) when schools reopen?

A. Forms I-20 issued electronically or with electronic signatures—as permitted during the COVID-19 emergency—will remain valid until students have a need for an updated Form I-20.

Q. How long is an electronic or digital travel signature valid on the Form I-20? Is it valid for the same amount of time as an ink signature?

A. An electronic or digital travel signature will be valid for the same duration as an ink signature (12 months for F students and six months for M students).

Q. Has SEVP worked with both the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in developing the policy to accept the use of electronic signatures during the COVID-19 emergency?

A. SEVP coordinated with both the Department of State and CBP regarding the policy to allow electronic issuance and signing of Forms I-20 for the duration of the COVID19 emergency. Both agencies are in support of this action. SEVP continues to respond to any issues raised or questions from both agencies about this policy and will provide clarity as needed.

Q. Due to COVID-19, if students are unable to enroll in the next session, can they transfer their I-901 SEVIS Fee payment to the next session?

A. As long as students maintain the same SEVIS record, there is no need to transfer their I-901 SEVIS Fee payment. Students who are unable to enroll in the next session may defer their enrollment to the next available session. Fee transfers are available for F and M students who have already paid the I-901 SEVIS Fee and who:

1) Reapply for a visa within 12 months of the date of their initial I-901 SEVIS Fee payment or

2) Are from a Visa Waiver Program country and reapply for status as a student at the port of entry within 12 months of the date of their initial I-901 SEVIS Fee payment.

Refer to the I-901 SEVIS Fee Frequently Asked Questions on ICE.gov/SEVP for additional information about reapplying fees.

Q. Our school has switched to fully online instruction but not all courses will be offered; some courses will be canceled due to inability to deliver via online means. Will students be excused from meeting full course of study requirements if the classes they need are not being offered?

A. Yes, full course of study requirements can be waived as a direct result of the impact from COVID-19. This information should be reported in a school’s procedural change documents submitted to SEVP, as described in Broadcast Message: COVID19 and Potential Procedural Adaptations for F and M Nonimmigrant Students. If this is a material change to previously submitted documents, schools should resubmit those documents as part of their submission to SEVP.

Q. If students wish to drop courses due to dissatisfaction with online courses not providing the same level of instruction, can a school submit a procedural change plan that allows this and keep the students’ SEVIS records Active?

A. No, students should maintain a full course of study to the extent possible. If a student is unwilling to take online courses or participate in other alternate forms of study as provided in the school’s procedural adaptation plan to SEVP, they should request a temporary absence and be terminated for Authorized Early Withdrawal. If a school is not offering a full course of study because of COVID-related limitations, it is permissible to have students take whatever courses are being offered or request temporary leave. However, if a student is simply unwilling to take a full course of study because it is only offered online, they should request a temporary absence.

Q. SEVP has indicated full course of study requirements can be adjusted due to COVID-19. If class cancellations impact any student’s ability to maintain a full course load, do DSOs have to authorize a reduced course load in SEVIS?

A. No, schools should not use the reduced course load functionality in SEVIS for students taking less than a full course of study due to limitations in providing classes or educational content as a result of COVID-19. Full course of study requirements can be waived as a direct result of the impact from COVID-19. If a student simply chooses not to participate in the alternative learning options available, they should seek a temporary absence.

Q. Should DSOs authorize F or M students for a medical reduced course load due to impacts from COVID-19?

A. A medical reduced course load may be appropriate for students who contract an illness due to COVID-19 or another condition and cannot maintain a full course load or their school’s authorized reduced course load as submitted to SEVP in its operational change plan. As a reminder, for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, schools may enroll F or M students at less than a full course load, provided the school has submitted this information to SEVP as part of its operational change plan. Students may also choose to take a temporary absence if they do not want to participate in their school’s alternative educational plans as provided in the school’s operational change plan.

Q. Many students’ on-campus employment opportunities are now being conducted remotely while campuses are closed or students are able to perform their work duties from home. Can F students engage in remote work for on-campus employment?

A. If the current on-campus employment opportunity has transitioned to remote work or the employment can be done through remote means, students may continue to engage in on-campus employment remotely. Schools should be able to explain how the students are providing services associated with the employment while not at the location of the employer.

Q. Can students engaged in OPT and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) OPT extension work remotely when appropriate and permitted by the employer? If so, do they need to submit an updated Form I-983?

A. Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely if their employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means. Students participating in STEM OPT do not need to submit an updated Form I-983 to report remote work. However, requirements to submit an updated Form I-983 for other changes remain in effect. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(9)(ii) for additional information.

Q. Can students with proper authorization participate in curricular practical training (CPT) while they are abroad?

A. Students may engage in CPT during their time abroad, provided they are:

1) Enrolled in a program of study in which CPT is integral to the program of study;

2) Their DSO authorized CPT in advance of the CPT start date; and

3) Either the employer has an office outside the United States or the employer can assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives electronically.

As noted in SEVP’s March 13, 2020, COVID-19: Guidance for SEVP Stakeholders, this enrollment may be online. All other requirements at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i) still apply.

Q. Does time spent studying outside of the United States during the COVID-19 emergency count toward the one-year requirement for CPT and OPT?

A. An F student accrues eligibility for practical training whether they are inside or outside of the United States during the COVID-19 emergency if the student is in Active status in SEVIS and meets the requirements of their school’s procedural change plans submitted to SEVP.

Q. Universities that moved to online courses have allowed students to travel to their home country to complete their studies. Will this international travel alter the student’s OPT/CPT and social security number (SSN) status?

A. DHS is evaluating these issues and may issue additional guidance. In the meantime, since USCIS adjudicates OPT employment authorization requests, SEVP recommends reaching out to USCIS for further guidance. Students may engage in CPT during their time abroad, provided they are enrolled in a program of study of which the CPT is an integral component, the DSO has authorized the CPT in advance, and either the employer has an office outside the United States or the employer has a means to assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives. As noted in SEVP’s March 13, 2020, COVID-19: Guidance for SEVP Stakeholders, this enrollment may be online. All other requirements at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i) still apply. For questions regarding SSNs, SEVP recommends reaching out to the Social Security Administration.

Q. Due to COVID-19, what is SEVP’s advice to students who want to apply for OPT? Is there any chance that students would be able to apply for post-completion OPT from outside the United States?

A. DHS is evaluating these issues and may issue additional guidance. In the meantime, since USCIS adjudicates OPT employment authorization requests, SEVP recommends reaching out to USCIS for further guidance.

Q. Can students apply for OPT while outside of the United States by filing a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization,” from abroad?

A. SEVP understands stakeholder concerns about the need for guidance. As the COVID19 emergency continues, the program will continue to develop guidance on significant issues and publish it at ICE.gov/Coronavirus. SEVP is collaborating with interagency components on these issues, including USCIS, CBP and the Department of State. The request presented in this question is primarily for consideration by USCIS, which adjudicates Forms I-765. SEVP is willing to cooperate in implementing such procedures so long as they are reviewed and approved as part of the DHS response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Q. Must students cease engaging in OPT if they are now working fewer than 20 hours a week due to the economic impacts of COVID-19?

A. For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT.

Q. Should DSOs with students on OPT update the students’ employer addresses in SEVIS with their remote work address? For students participating in the STEM extension, do their Forms I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students,” need to be updated with their remote work address?

A. No. DSOs should not update the employer address information in SEVIS nor on the Form I-983 for students working remotely.

Q. Will there be an extension or suspension of the 90-day/150-day allowed period of unemployment for OPT and STEM OPT during the COVID-19 emergency?

A. DHS is evaluating this issue but has not yet determined whether to implement a specific exemption for exceeding the regulatory limits for unemployment of 90 days for OPT and 150 days for STEM OPT.

Q. Can F and M students who were previously employed and are now unemployed due to COVID-19 apply for unemployment benefits?

A. Students who are unemployed due to COVID-19 should contact their local or state employment agency for more information.

Q. Do F and M students need employment authorization to volunteer as part of COVID-19 relief efforts?

A. No, F and M students who work without wages, taxable compensation or other remuneration are considered volunteers and are not required to obtain an employment authorization document.

Q. How will the five-month rule apply to student transfers?

A. The five-month rule related to student transfers will not apply to students affected by COVID-19. For transfer students that exceed the five-month period, DSOs should contact the SEVP Response Center (SRC) for a data fix. SRC contact information is available at the end of this FAQ.

Q. How should DSOs handle the SEVIS records of transfer students? Can DSOs complete a transfer in SEVIS for students who are outside the United States in Initial transfer status and could enroll and begin study at the transfer-in school remotely?

A. For students outside the United States who are currently in Initial status in SEVIS with an “I-20 Issue Reason” of transfer, schools should keep their SEVIS records in Initial status and request a data fix when these students are ready to re-enter the United States to begin study. SEVP’s temporary guidance does not permit students in Initial status in SEVIS to begin a new program remotely. SEVP continues to monitor the situation and may update its guidance if the school closures and alternative learning procedures remain necessary this fall. Transfer students inside the United States must report to a DSO at their transfer-in school in person or using electronic means within 15 days of their program start date (8 CFR 214.2(f)(8)(ii)(C)). The DSO must complete the transfer process and register the student as Active in SEVIS. Students should follow the guidelines the school provides to all its F and M students related to COVID-19.

Q. DSOs are unable to defer the start date for a transfer record in SEVIS. Should DSOs be requesting a data fix for each individual case?

A. Yes, DSOs should request a data fix through SRC for each case when a student is ready to re-enter the United States to continue their course of study, including engaging in practical training. SRC contact information is available at the end of the FAQ.

Q. Will F and M students be able to return to the United States if they are continuing their studies outside of the country as a result of COVID-19?

A. Students who continue to make normal progress in their course of study remain eligible for admission into the United States. However, because of the changing array of travel restrictions, students should refer to their local embassy’s website through the U.S. Department of State for any updates about visa issuance. Also, DHS and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) websites provide information about current travel restrictions to the United States.

Q. Is there a time frame for when students are expected to return to the United States once the COVID-19 emergency is over and schools have resumed normal operations?

A. Dependent on their school’s return to normal operations and any continuing travel restrictions, students should seek to return to the United States within 30 days of the next available session start date. SEVP also anticipates providing additional guidance after the COVID-19 emergency ends regarding a school’s return to normal operations.

Q. If students remain in the United States due to COVID-19 and their passport expires, what do they need to do to renew it?

A. Students in this situation should contact their country’s embassy or consulate to identify options for passport extension or renewal. If students decide to depart the United States, they will not be eligible to apply for admission until they renew their passport.

Q. Is there any flexibility in extending grace periods for students who have been unable to depart the United States after completing their programs due to travel restrictions? Will there be any changes to SEVIS to allow for such extensions?

A. This is a complex issue that SEVP is addressing within the larger context of the DHS response to the COVID-19 emergency. Amending SEVIS database functionality is a complex undertaking and would have to be prioritized among the many other scheduled improvements that SEVP is making to the system to enhance efficiency and functionality.

Q. What should students do if they need to return home within 60 days after completing their program of study, but their travel plans are complicated by a lack of commercially available flights or their country currently prohibits all inbound travel?

A. SEVP recognizes that some students may find it difficult to return home during the COVID-19 emergency because of diminished travel options. Students in this situation are encouraged to communicate with their DSO for guidance and to assess options for alternative study arrangements such as online classes during this time. DSOs should document in the student’s record any material information related to a student’s inability to leave the country due to COVID-19.

Q. What are the instructions for students who have traveled to their home country for spring break and whose classes have now moved online and have a return ticket to the United States in the coming days? Is it advisable that these students should travel at this time or should they remain in their home country? Will their student visa status change if they choose to remain in their home country? 

A. SEVP advises students currently outside of the United States and looking to enter the country to check on any travel restrictions their country might have regarding international travel, including restrictions applicable to countries they may travel through. Students should also check with their DSOs to confirm the school’s operational status, or procedures for out-of-country students as some schools may not currently allow new or returning students on campus for an extended period of time. Regarding options for maintaining student status while outside of the United States, students should check with their DSOs for alternate study arrangements. Additionally, refer to COVID-19: Guidance for SEVP Stakeholders for information about online courses.

Q. Our school switched to fully online instruction for the remainder of the spring semester and some students will return to their home countries to complete their programs online. Can DSOs extend students’ program end dates so seniors can return to the United States at the end of the school year (e.g., May or June) for graduation ceremonies on their current Forms I-20?

A. DSOs should not extend students’ programs to accommodate graduation ceremonies. Students wishing to return to the United States to attend graduation have the following options:

1) Students can return to the United States prior to the program end date on the Form I-20 and attend their graduation during the 60-day grace period.

2) Students who intend to continue their study in the United States can return with a pending change of educational level or transfer Form I-20.

3) Students can return to the United States on another visa classification (i.e., B-2 visitor visa).

Q. How is SEVP coordinating with other government agencies on emerging issues related to COVID-19?

A. SEVP understands stakeholder concerns about the need for guidance. As the COVID 19 emergency continues, the program will develop guidance for its stakeholders and will publish it at ICE.gov/Coronavirus. However, SEVP is unable to address questions that are within the authorities of other agencies. The international student life cycle consists of specific functions that are handled by those federal agencies with the authority to do so. During the life cycle process, some questions are more appropriately answered by the authorizing agency. In some cases, it may require input and collaboration from multiple agencies. SEVP is in contact with our government partners, including USCIS, CBP and the Department of State. For those questions that are solely within the jurisdiction of our government partners, SEVP encourages stakeholders to contact the most appropriate government agency on specific issues.

Q. Where can I find COVID-19 information for J exchange visitors?

Guidance for J exchange visitors is available on the Department of State’s website, Exchange Visitor Program Information on COVID-19.

Q. Where can I find guidance distributed by SEVP in response to COVID-19?

A. All COVID-19 guidance for SEVP stakeholders is located at ICE.gov/Coronavirus. Stakeholders should regularly visit this page for the latest guidance and frequently asked questions from SEVP. Additionally, SEVP regularly shares updates and resources from government partners—including the Department of State and CDC—through our social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Q. Will returning to my home country to complete online courses affect my visa status?

A. Western Michigan University began delivering instruction through distance education on Monday, March 16, through the end of the Summer I semester, effective for all locations. The University will continue monitoring this fluid situation and will determine if that time frame needs to be extended.

As students decide whether they should remain in the U.S. or go home to continue their program online, in either instance, schools should keep those records in ACTIVE status. At this time there is no need to terminate for any student that continues a full course of study during this period.

For exceptions to full course of study requirements, please inquire with WMU International Admissions and Services (IAS).

Please be reminded that if you change your address, there is still the requirement to report your address within 10 days to WMU IAS, which you may do through your GoWMU portal.

Q. If I choose to return to my home country, will I be rejected entry to the US when I come back?

A. Due to the rapidly changing situation surrounding COVID-19, Western Michigan University cautions you to carefully re-consider making any international or domestic travel plans. Traveling to any of the Level 3 countries affected by the Corona Virus (COVID-19) is a personal risk to you. Additionally, if you travel, you may be denied re-entry to the US and could be subjected to a mandatory quarantine by the US Federal government and/or self-quarantined by WMU.

Western Michigan University advises all international students to consult with International Admissions and Services before making travel arrangements.

Q. Will students be subject to the "5-month" rule? 

A. Under current conditions, if an active F student leaves the United States to complete the spring term online, their SEVIS record should remain in ACTIVE status and not be terminated. While the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, students deemed to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study. For that reason, the five-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(4) will not apply for students who remain in ACTIVE status.  SEVP will allow F and M students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study.

Students departing the US to continue their program online should notify International Admissions and Services.

Q. Am I required to fly back 14 days before classes resume in-person for quarantine purposes?

A. Please also contact International Admissions and Services 2-3 months prior to your intended return to the US to receive updated advice including whether there are any quarantines at that time.

Q. If I return to the US after traveling internationally, and I am delayed in secondary inspection by US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP), what should I do about it? Will my visa status, SEVIS, or I-20 be affected, and how?

A. If this occurs, contact International Admissions and Services to provide the circumstances surrounding the denied entry and discuss how to proceed based on individual circumstances. 

For students detained or denied at a border or port of entry, the student or border officer may call WMU International Admissions and Services during normal business hours –8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. If after normal business hours, please contact Kalamazoo County Consolidated Dispatch at (269) 488-8911 (ask to be directed to a WMU Public Safety officer).

Q. Are some students more susceptible to being denied entry?

A. At this time, due to the current travel restrictions surrounding COVID-19, international students from impacted countries may be denied entry. For resources on travel updates, please visit wmich.edu/immigration and scroll to Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates & Resources.

Q.  Can international students take courses for Credit/No Credit option? What if I don’t pass?

A.  Yes, international students may take courses for Credit/No Credit.  International Admissions and Services will count the courses towards full course of study requirements provided you attempted and attended the courses.

Q.  I applied for OPT, but the job market is difficult right now. Can I “freeze” OPT?

A. We empathize that this is a difficult time. While the job market is difficult now, the OPT rules do allow for some unemployment time, although it is limited.

Also, if international students can find "volunteer" work more than 20 hours per week, they can count that toward their status, if they report it to International Admissions and Services. Due to FLSA requirements, volunteerism at WMU has special requirements that need to comport with WMU Human Resources in advance.

Presently, these are the limits on unemployment time:

  • F-1 students employed pursuant to their first year of post-completion optional practical training (OPT) who are terminated by employer may remain unemployed for up to a total of 90 days.
  • F-1 students employed pursuant to their STEM period of post-completion optional practical training (OPT) who are terminated by employer may remain unemployed for up to 150 days.
  • Periods of unemployment accrued during the first year of post-completion OPT count towards the 150 day unemployment period permitted to their STEM OPT holders.

Also if a student is on OPT and their employer assigns them to remote work or "telecommuting" it will still count as employment for purposes of OPT.

For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT. However, if an employer terminates the employer-employee relationship, then students would accrue days of unemployment.

Q. If I am sick or am in medically mandated quarantine due to COVID-19, is there any immigration relief? 

A. If students are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and it is not possible for students to enroll, they may apply to WMU IAS for authorization of a medically Reduced Course Load (RCL) in SEVIS.

The school DSO may authorize a medically reduced course load. The student will need to provide medical documentation from a doctor. The DSO would then register the student in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) for a medically reduced course load with no course load.

Students should follow the directions from the CDC: What to do if you are sick with 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).