As a current international student in F-1 or J-1 immigration status, am I allowed to take my classes online? How does taking all my courses online affect my immigration status?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), the government agency overseeing F-1 students, and the Department of State, the agency which oversees J-1 students, have temporarily relaxed restrictions on online coursework for the Spring and Summer terms, allowing students to remain active in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). According to a recent update provided by SEVP, they have not made any decisions regarding guidance for the Fall 2020 semester. If an extension is granted, we will update this FAQ and alert students.

If I returned to my home country to complete the spring semester online, will my F-1 or J-1 record remain active?

Students’ SEVIS records will remain active as long as they were enrolled full-time at UNC for the Spring 2020 semester and intend to enroll for the Fall 2020 semester.

What are my reporting requirements during this time?

Both exchange students and degree-seeking students must continue to report changes in their U.S. address and contact information during this time. This is a regulatory requirement but will also allow ISSS to continue to support you. Please see below for guidance on how to update your information:

For Students Remaining in the U.S.:

ADDRESS: Update your SEVIS Immigration Reporting Address in your ConnectCarolina Student Center to the current location where you are residing, even if this is only a temporary address. You must update your address within 10 days of relocating any time you move.

PHONE NUMBER: Update your “Preferred” phone number in your ConnectCarolina Student Center.

Students outside of the U.S.:

ADDRESS: Update your SEVIS Immigration Reporting Address in your ConnectCarolina Student Center to your last known U.S. address. Do NOT change this to an address outside of the U.S. Update your SEVIS Foreign Address to your permanent address in your home country.

PHONE NUMBER: Update your “Preferred” phone number in your ConnectCarolina Student Center. Your “Preferred” phone number may be an international number.

I am concerned about how this situation will impact me financially. What kind of financial assistance might be available to me?

International graduate and undergraduate students may be eligible for funding through the Student Impact Fund. Additional information can be found on Carolina’s Keep Learning website.

If I leave or have left the U.S., what happens if I am out of the U.S. for more than 5 months?

The 5-month absence rule does not apply if students maintained full-time enrollment in Spring 2020 and intend to enroll for the Fall 2020 semester. ISSS will not close your F-1 or J-1 SEVIS record as long as you were enrolled full-time for Spring 2020 and intend to enroll for Fall 2020. Students who wish to withdraw from the current semester or who intend to withdraw for the fall semester should follow the procedures on the ISSS website regarding withdrawal or leave of absence.

What happens if I cannot return to the U.S. prior to the start of Fall classes on August 10?

Students who cannot return to the U.S. prior to the start of the Fall semester can consider the following options:

  1. Enrolling in UNC online courses and completing coursework remotely for the Fall semester*.
  2. Taking a leave of absence for the Fall semester. Students must complete and return the Notice of Withdrawal/Leave of Absence Form to ISSS prior to the start of the Fall semester.
  3. At this time, there is limited availability for undergraduate students to participate in UNC’s approved study abroad programs. However, undergraduate students may pursue direct enrollment at an accredited local university as a non-approved study abroad program while maintaining their UNC enrollment status. Learn more about non-approved programs on the Study Abroad website.

*Please note that at this time, we are waiting on SEVP and DOS guidance for Fall 2020, so it is difficult to determine how online coursework will impact your F-1 or J-1 status. You may be permitted to engage in online study while maintaining your F-1 or J-1 status, similar to Spring/Summer 2020. It is also possible that we will have to close out your F-1 or J-1 status for the Fall 2020 semester while you are outside of the U.S. We will update students once more information becomes available from SEVP and DOS.

What should I do if I leave or have left the U.S. without a valid travel endorsement on my Form I-20 or Form DS-2019, but I intend to return to the U.S. in the future?

An ISSS advisor can re-issue a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 for travel. Students will need to complete the Travel Endorsement Request Form and email the completed form to their International Student Advisor. Students must create a shipping label via eShipGlobal to have the Form I-20 or DS-2019 express mailed to them. This service will be available only if express mail couriers continue operating.

Will the visa in my passport expire if I am outside the U.S. for more than 5 months?

The visa in your passport will not expire if you are outside the U.S. for more than 5 months. The expiration date remains valid regardless of the length of time you are outside the U.S. Students should check to make sure their visa stamp is still valid at the time they wish to re-enter the U.S.

If my visa expires while I’m still outside the U.S., what do I do?

Students who need to apply for a new visa stamp in their passport should contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country. Many embassies and consulates are currently closed, so students will need to monitor the embassy’s website for information about reopening. More information regarding documentation needed to apply for a visa stamp is on the ISSS website.

I am in F-1 status and I graduated in May 2020 or will graduate in Summer 2020. Can I still apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

International Student Advisors are continuing to process requests for a new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation. Students can submit requests through email to their International Student Advisor. Students will need to create a shipping label with eShipGlobal, so the I-20 can be mailed. Once a student receives the Form I-20, they should sign the form at the bottom and make a copy to submit with their application to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Applications should be submitted while the student is still in the U.S. and must be received before the end of the student’s 60-day grace period.

If I have an internship offer for the summer, will I be able to receive work authorization?
Please review the information regarding employment on the ISSS website. Students who are eligible for practical training can submit their application materials to their International Student Advisor via email. While ISSS may be able to continue processing applications for practical training for the summer, students should follow University directives about any travel restrictions which are subject to change rapidly.  The University’s COVID-19 website includes updated information on University policies regarding travel restrictions.

What happens if I applied for Post-Completion OPT, and I need to leave the U.S.? Can I re-enter the U.S. when the travel restrictions are lifted?

Once the OPT application is approved, students will need the Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) and a job offer to re-enter the U.S. Students with questions should contact their International Student Advisor.

What if I was scheduled to leave the U.S., and borders in my home country are closed? Or, how do I remain in compliance despite travel restrictions in my home country and the U.S.?

You should review your home country’s official information on border closures and see if citizens of the country are permitted to return. In many cases, this type of travel is permitted. If students are unable to return to the U.S. for Fall 2020 due to travel restrictions, they can contact their International Student Advisor for guidance on how to proceed. Students may only continue to stay in the U.S. during this time if they continue to maintain their F-1 or J-1 status.

What concerns should I have about consular services closing worldwide? Will I need consular service if I have a valid visa to return to the U.S.?

Students should check the F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in their passport to make sure it is not expired. If the visa is unexpired, there is no need to visit a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Students will need to have a valid travel endorsement on their Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 from an ISSS advisor.

I graduated in May and will be attending graduate school or a new program at another U.S. school in Fall 2020. Do I need to leave the U.S. and apply for a new F-1 visa?

Students currently in F-1 or J-1 status may be eligible to transfer their SEVIS record to their new institution. Once the record has been released from UNC to the new institution, the new institution will be able to issue the student a new Form I-20 or DS-2019. Students can remain in the U.S. for the entire process, even if the F-1 or J-1 visa in their passport will expire. A valid F-1 or J-1 visa is only required for re-entry into the U.S. after a trip overseas. If the student has a valid F-1 or J-1 visa, they can use their current visa with the new Form I-20 or DS-2019 from their new institution to re-enter the U.S.

I completed my degree program or exchange program in Spring 2020. I am trying to depart the U.S.; however, I cannot secure a flight out of the U.S. before the end of my 60-day grace period. What do I do?

Students who cannot depart the U.S. prior to the end of the grace period should consider the following options:

  1. IF ELIGIBLE, apply for Post-Completion OPT. Students should contact their International Student Advisor for further guidance. NOTE: Non-degree exchange students are NOT eligible for OPT.
  2. Apply for a change of status to another nonimmigrant status [normally (B-2) visitor/tourist] .
  3. SEVP guidance has indicated that it is possible for ISSS to make a remark on the student’s SEVIS record confirming that the student will leave beyond the normal grace period due to diminished travel options resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Students will need to send an email request to ISSS@unc.edu to have this remark added to their record.

Students may want to contact their home country’s embassy in the U.S. to request assistance in departing the U.S.

It is also recommended that students consult a qualified immigration attorney to determine how each option could impact them now and in the future. If applying for a change of status, it is recommended that students work with an immigration attorney to file the application, as this process can be quite complex.

Information provided is not intended as legal advice. Students are encouraged to consult a licensed attorney for legal advice.