Due to the rapidly evolving situation regarding COVID-19 (Coronavirus), the Office of International Programs would like to share updates with you regarding immigration, campus services and immigration advising during this time. We understand the concerns of international students regarding COVID-19 and its disruption to campus life. International Programs staff will be here to assist you as you navigate these changes. Please review the information below. This information will continued to be updated.
The State University System of Florida has directed all Florida universities, including the University of West Florida, to conduct the rest of the Spring 2020 semester remotely effective immediately. Although there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on any University of West Florida campuses or locations, these changes follow the general public health principle of limiting the interaction of people within larger groups to diminish disease transmission and protect everyone in our communities.
International Programs is committed to providing all possible support for you in the current challenging situation and would like to provide answers to questions you may have following this announcement. Below are some considerations regarding maintaining your F-1 or J-1 visa status as you complete your coursework online for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester.
This is an evolving situation so it is important to monitor your email as we expect further updates. All live updates will also be posted to the Confluence page International Programs Updates for COVID-19 as changes are made.
Updated May 29, 2020
I would like to depart the United States and complete my courses online from my home country. If I go home will this affect my grades in my classes or my degree?
Completing your courses from outside of the U.S. will have no impact on the grades you may receive in your courses at the end of the semester or any impact on your degree. You will remain a UWF student in good academic standing even if you complete your courses from outside the U.S.
I understand that normally I’m required to attend face to face classes in order to keep my visa. Will my visa status be affected now that all my classes are online?
The University of West Florida has extended remote instruction through Spring 2020. Per Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance, F-1 and J-1 students are approved to continue study online in the U.S. or from outside of the U.S.
SEVP approved these emergency measures so that nonimmigrant students can continue to make normal progress in their program of study. Please note that you must maintain full-time enrollment to keep your SEVIS record active.
Do I need to remain in the US until the end of the Spring semester in order to keep my visa status?
F-1 and J-1 students are approved to continue study online from outside of the U.S. You may depart the U.S. to complete your coursework for Spring 2020.
Please note that you must maintain full-time enrollment to keep your SEVIS record active.
Do I need to enroll in classes for Summer 2020 to keep my visa status?
Summer 2020 may be a break semester for you if you plan to enroll in Fall 2020 and the program end date on your I-20 is through December 15, 2020 or beyond.
- In the summer term, you may enroll in any number of credit hours and any combination of courses (online or face-to-face), or not enroll at all.
If Summer 2020 is your graduating semester, you must enroll in all the courses you need to complete your degree.
- The University of West Florida has extended remote instruction through Summer 2020. Per Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance, F-1 and J-1 students are approved to continue study online in the U.S. or from outside of the U.S.
- If you will be less than full-time, you must submit the Graduation Verification Form to document that Summer 2020 is your graduating semester.
I graduated in Spring 2020 or I will graduate in Summer 20. How can I maintain my status?
If you graduated in Spring 2020, your I-20 end date is May 15. Summer 2020 graduates will have an end date of August 15. You have 60 days after that to take action to maintain your F-1 status. Contact your international student advisor or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
You can see more information here - Study in the States: Upon Program Completion: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/maintaining-status
1. Apply for OPT
2. Be admitted to a new degree program and update your I-20.
3. Transfer to another school
4. Apply for a change of status if eligible
I really want to return to my country now, but I’m worried that if I leave the US I might lose my visa status or my scholarship or have some other troubles. Should I go?
Due to the serious nature of this pandemic, you should take responsibility for your health and wellbeing and make a decision that is best for you and your family. You are always free to depart the United States and International Programs will support you as best we can if this is your decision. If you have questions about your specific situation, please email email@example.com and we will reply in a timely manner with guidance.
I want to depart the US and have not had my I-20 or DS-2019 signed for travel. What should I do?
You have three options:
- Check the travel signature on page 3 of your I-20 or page 1 of your DS-2019. The travel signature is valid for one year from the last date it was signed. Make sure that your anticipated arrival date back to the US will fall within one year of the last travel signature. Example: Your I-20 was signed December 12, 2019 and you intend to reenter the US on August 24, 2020. You do not need a new travel signature.
- Depart the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org once you return home. Our office will reissue an I-20 or DS-2019 for travel and send you instructions on how to have it shipped to your location. Note: You will be responsible for the courier fees associated with mailing this document to you.
- The Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) released guidance on March 26, 2020 which states that schools may sign and “electronically send Forms I-20 to student email addresses listed in SEVIS.” No notifications have been made regarding the emailing of Forms DS-2019s. No guidance has been received from the US Department of State or US Customs & Border Protection regarding their acceptance of electronically signed documents.
Update on Electronic Form I-20 Issuance per SEVP (May 12, 2020)
5. 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 COVID-19 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.
Is there any official guidance about my visa status from the US government?
The Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) released official guidance to stakeholders on March 13, 2020 stating the following:
“If a school closes temporarily but offers online instruction or another alternative learning procedure, nonimmigrant students should participate in online or other alternate learning procedures and remain in active status in SEVIS. Schools must notify SEVP of COVID-19 procedural changes within 10 business days. Given the extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP will allow F-1 and/or M-1 students to temporarily count online classes towards 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 from elsewhere. This temporary provision is only in effect for the duration of the emergency and in accordance with the procedural change documents filed in a timely manner to SEVP.”
NOTE: Due to the fluid nature of this difficult situation, this guidance may be subject to change. SEVP will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and will adjust its guidance as needed.
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?
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.
Is UWF Housing and Residence Life still open? Do I have to move out of my residence hall?
Housing and Residence Life will work with international students who are not able to return home during this time period on an individual basis. Please contact Housing and Residence Life at email@example.com for your next steps.
Students who previously were approved to stay on campus during the recent two week closure (March 14 - March 29, 2020) MUST also complete a new form to stay in a residence hall.
I moved out of my on campus housing. When am I allowed to return?
At this time, residential students who returned to permanent residences or alternative locations are permitted to return at any time on Sunday, March 29. If for any reason you need to move back in earlier, please contact Housing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will I have access to dining services on campus if I remain an on-campus resident during the closure?
The Nautilus Market will only be open to students that remain on campus. All other on-campus dining facilities are closed. The Nautilus Market will be open for two meal periods each day—lunch from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and dinner from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. The dining room will be closed and meals will be to-go only. There will be no self-serve stations. Plates will be served by Nautilus Market staff.
If I move out of my on or off campus residence, do I need to update my address?
Yes, F-1 and J-1 visa holders must report any change in residence within 10 days per federal regulation. To update your local address in the U.S., log into MyUWF and search for Contact and Privacy Information. To update your permanent address (address outside of the U.S.), please email the complete address to email@example.com.
I want to depart the US. What documents will I need to return?
The University strongly recommends all students refrain from personal international travel unless you are returning to your home country for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester.
As an F-1 or J-1 visa holder, if you decide to travel abroad you must have the following documents in order to re-enter the United States:
- Valid F-1 of J-1 Student Visa
- Valid Passport, valid at least six months beyond you re-entry date
- Valid I-20 or DS-2019, with Valid Travel Signature
Under US Presidential order, some countries are currently prevented from entering the US. This includes those from Europe, United Kingdom, Brazil and Republic of Ireland. This situation may change and include additional countries or regions.
Can DSOs (International Student Advisors) electronically send signed Forms I-20 to students instead of physically mailing the forms? My school sent me an electronic version of my Form I-20 based on this Department of Homeland Security Guidance (www.ice.gov/doclib/coronavirus/covid19faq.pdf).
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.
Students are advised to print a copy of the guidance to present to the Customs and Border Protection officer when they reenter the US. See page 5 for the guidance from the Department of Homeland Security: ww.ice.gov/doclib/coronavirus/covid19faq.pdf
What if I currently work on campus as a GA or student employee?
If you remain in the US, UWF is attempting to keep students employed on a remote basis as they are for all UWF employees. If you depart the US with the intention to work remotely from abroad, the University is prohibited from paying you once your residence is outside the US due to international taxation employment laws.
What about travel in the US?
The University strongly recommends all students refrain from personal domestic travel except for emergency purposes. While not required to have the above listed documents for domestic travel, we recommend you keep these documents with you. Please make sure you have made copies.
SEVP and the Exchange Visitor Program encourage visa holders to follow CDC guidance and consider health, safety, and welfare implications for travel at this time.
I am graduating and plan to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). Can I apply from elsewhere in the U.S.? Can I apply from outside of the U.S.?
As always, OPT requires full time enrollment for at least one year and a US address for the application. If these factors are satisfied, the student may continue the application per normal. However, students interested in taking advantage of this visa benefit should consider the possibility of future travel restrictions, either from the US or their home country.
If you choose to depart the United States to complete your courses from your home country, your eligibility to apply for OPT benefits may be subject to change per SEVP guidance.
I am currently on Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Will the move to online instruction affect my practical training authorization for Spring 2020?
Students on CPT are expected to report to work as scheduled unless otherwise instructed by their supervisor. If you decide to leave your current position or your employer implements measures that discontinue your employment due to this unprecedented situation, you must inform International Programs and follow the steps outlined by UWF Career Development and Community Engagement: https://confluence.uwf.edu/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=146422463
If your CPT position is attached to a credit-bearing course that counts toward your full-time enrollment, any change to your CPT may impact your visa status.
How can I receive immigration advising while the University is closed?
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns. International Programs staff will remain available during regular business hours to assist you by email or schedule an appointment by telephone. We will attempt to answer all emails within 24 hours.
Am I eligible for a stimulus check from the US government? I received a stimulus check. Am I allowed to cash it?
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) states that taxpayers likely won't qualify for an Economic Impact Payment if they are a nonresident for tax purposes. You can see details here: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payment-information-center Students can refer to IRS resources to determine if they are nonresident alien for tax purposes: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/international-taxpayers/determining-alien-tax-status
- Most international students and scholars are nonresidents for federal tax purposes. U.S. tax law and legal restrictions are complex. Therefore, the International Programs staff is neither qualified nor permitted to provide individual tax advice.
- The IRS provides next steps to return the payment if it was received in error: https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc161
- If you have received a stimulus check and do not know if you are eligible for it, it is recommended that you contact a tax attorney for guidance.
What should I do to return an Economic Impact Payment (EIP)?
Per the IRS, you should return it.
Resources updated on May 11, 2020 can be found here: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payment-information-center#more
- See question Q41.
Students may also want to review these additional resources: