Immigration Information for Current International Students

These FAQs will provide answers to questions you might have about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Towson University students’ immigration status.

These are unprecedented times. We want to make sure that you are doing well, staying healthy, safe, and aware of relevant information. You may have questions about how the COVID-19 pandemic might impact your immigration status.  

 

Towson University is committed to our international students 

A message of affirmation for our entire student community - President Schatzel July 15, 2020
TU's ongoing commitment to international students - President Schatzel July 13, 2020

Current Students

Is the ISSO open?
In response to COVID-19, Towson University is open with limited services. The ISSO is operating remotely. Although you can’t visit our office in person, we’re still available during normal business hours by email, .  Immigration requests must be submitted through the ISSO Portal.

Now that the government has rescinded the July 6 guidance, can I take all online classes and stay in the U.S.? 

Per the current guidance, continuing students may take all online classes and maintain their F-1 status.  

I went home for spring/summer 2020, can I continue to study from my home country in fall 2020 and still maintain my F-1 student status?

Per the current guidance, continuing students may take all online classes from outside the U.S. and still remain active in SEVIS.  You will need to maintain a full-cousrse load and complete the semester to maintain your status. 

If you will be graduating, please note that at this time, you will not be able to apply for OPT from outside the U.S.

I have an assistantship or on-campus employment for the Fall 2020 semester. Can I complete my work from outside the U.S.?

F-1 students who will remain outside the U.S. cannot hold an assistantship or have an on-campus job for fall 2020.  Students have to be physically present in the U.S. to have an assistantship or on-campus position.  

I have an immigration question.  How do I reach an advisor?
All advisors are working remotely.  We ask that you email .  We ask that you not email individual advisors directly.  We can respond to your questions more easily if you email the main ISSO account.  If needed, you will receive an email from an individual advisor to set up a WebEx or Zoom appointment.

I need a travel signature. How do I get one from the ISSO?
The ISSO is currently not able to provide in-person travel signatures. Please remember that you do not need a signed I-20 or DS-2019 to leave the U.S. — you only need it to re-enter. The government is temporarily allowing electronic I-20s. To obtain an I-20 with a travel signature, please go ISSO Portal https://isso-portal.towson.edu.

  1. Click on Forms. Logon with Towson University username and password 
  2. Under category Immigration Requests, select I-20 Reprint Request
  3. For reason, select: Travel and then submit
  4. In 3- 5 business days your signed I-20 will be sent to your Towson email address. 
  5. Print the I-20 and the supporting letter.

The rules for DS-2019s has not changed. You will need an original DS-2019 with signature to return. Please submit a request to have a reprinted DS-2019 with a travel signature.

Should I return to my home country?
The ISSO cannot advise you whether to stay in the U.S. or return to your home country. However, international travel may be risky at this time. Many countries have travel restrictions in place. If you choose to go home, you may be unable to return to the U.S. as soon as you would like.

The U.S. has imposed travel bans on people coming from several countries (also see I am currently outside of the U.S. Will I be able to enter the U.S. question) . Additionally, if you need to renew your visa while at home, U.S. embassies and consulates are just now reopening. On July 13, the Department of State announced phased re-opening of embassies and consulates. Each embassy/consulate will announce when they will re-open and when appointments will be available.  You will need to check the website of a particular embassy or consulate for the most up to date information about visa appointment availability. 

You should review the travel information from the U.S. government and from your own government for additional information and guidance. 

I am currently outside of the U.S. Will I be able to enter the U.S.?

Non-U.S. citizens and non-US. Permanent residents who live in, have visited, or have transited through the following countries in the past 14 days are not eligible to enter the U.S.

The U.S. Department of State has announced that F-1 students who live in, have visited, or have transited through the following countries in the past 14 days are NOW ABLE to enter the U.S.. 

  • European Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City)
  • United Kingdom
  • Republic of Ireland 

I submitted an immigration request. How will I get my document? 

SEVP is allowing us to send electronic copies of I-20 documents.  For most students you will receive an e-copy of your document and the original will be available for pick-up at a later date.

For those that need hard copies (originals of I-20), the ISSO is mailing them out by U.S. Postal Service — regular (first-class) mail.

If you prefer and you wish to track your document, you may pay for shipping to receive the document by UPS, DHL, FedEx or USPS (Express or Priority Mail). 

I have a question that cannot be answered by email. Can I still make an appointment with an advisor?
Yes: the ISSO advisors are still available for appointments. Please send an email to the ISSO, , with a description of your issue and an advisor will contact you to arrange a WebEx or phone meeting. 

Graduating Students

Are there any changes to the OPT application process?
There are no changes at this time. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which handles OPT applications, are both still processing applications.

Please submit your OPT application as usual. OPT rules are still in place. Students on OPT are still only allowed 90 days of unemployment. 

If I finish my degree program while outside the U.S. am I eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training from abroad?
The I-765 form is the application you file with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request OPT. On page 4, Part 3 of the I-765, USCIS states you must file the application while in the U.S. USCIS has not made special provisions to allow F-1 student visa holders to apply from outside the U.S. during COVID-19. 

Students on OPT/STEM OPT

Will the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) allow more than 90 days of unemployment for OPT students or more than 150 cumulative days of unemployment for 24 month STEM Optional Practical Training due to COVID-19?
SEVP has not issued any provisions to allow F-1 student visa holders to exceed the current unemployment limits of 90 days (for 12 month post-completion OPT) or cumulative total of 150 days (for the 24 Month STEM OPT period). Students should continue to report all employment changes via SEVP portal. Please see next question for more information. 

My employer has reduced the number of hours I work per week.  Am I still in legal F-1 status even if I am working less than 20 hours per week?
SEVP has temporarily waived the full-time employment requirement.  You are still considered to be maintaining status and employed while on OPT even if you are working less than 20 hours per week.

I have lost my job or am worried about losing my job. What happens with my 90-day unemployment clock if I can no longer work due to the COVID-19?
First, it is important to determine if you are being laid off or if you are being placed on a “temporary leave in accordance with your company’s leave policies.” In the first scenario, being laid off, this means that you do not have a job at the end of the pandemic, and would need to re-apply to your previous position.

If you are placed on leave (paid or unpaid), this means that your workplace is temporarily suspending services, but will keep your position for you and expects you to return when the company reopens. If you are not sure which one applies to you, please ask this question to your supervisor or your Human Resources office, as this is a very important distinction.

If you are placed on leave in accordance with an official policy, then the days you are not working will NOT count as unemployment and will not count against your 90-day maximum period of unemployment (your “unemployment clock”).

If you are laid off, you are required to report this end in employment within 10 days. These days WILL count against your 90-day unemployment clock.

It is important to note that the international advising community has asked SEVP and USCIS to issue guidance on this subject and consider a temporary halt in counting of unemployment days — if any update is released (and we hope it will be) we will share it with you as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have to operate under the normal rules. If you are not clear on how many days you have left of your 90-day unemployment clock, please contact the ISSO for an update. 

Can I file for unemployment insurance benefits?
Your eligibility to file for unemployment insurance benefits will vary from U.S. state to U.S. state — both where you are living and where you are working.

Unemployment insurance is generally reserved for immigrants and immigrant visa types (for example, H-1B or O-1 working visas). Presumably F-1 students with valid issued EADs would be considered work-eligible by DHS and thus may qualify by the state for unemployment. However, any use of funds could make you what is known as a public charge.

In a nutshell, if you are determined to be a “public charge” for up to 12 months in any 3-year period, this could result in you being denied future immigration benefits (such as a new visa or permanent residency).

Recently, USCIS has updated their public charge language with respect to COVID-19. If you wish to apply for unemployment benefits, we would strongly advise that you first speak with an immigration attorney to go over all the pros and cons of using (or even applying for) these types of benefits. It is important to know that even just submitting an application can cause issues later. If after you speak with an attorney and decide to apply, please make sure to keep a print out of USCIS’s page in your permanent records, as the website language is likely to change over time. Please see our immigration attorney handout (PDF) on finding and selecting an immigration attorney. 

If I leave the U.S. for a temporary period during my 12-month Post-Completion OPT or 24-Month STEM OPT and I cannot return, will I accrue unemployment for time spent outside the U.S.?
SEVP policy guidance states, “time spent outside the United States during an approved period of post-completion OPT counts as unemployment against the 90/150-day limits, unless the student is either: employed during a period of leave [e.g. vacation] authorized by an employer; or traveling as part of his or her employment.”

If you are unable to return to the U.S. and your employer authorizes you to continue your work for them while abroad, you are encouraged to request a letter from your employer stating that you are in a period of travel which is part of your OPT employment. 

All Students

I need to renew my visa. When will U.S. Embassies and Consulates reopen?

On March 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of State suspended all non-essential immigrant and non-immigrant visa appointments.

On July 13, the Department of State announced phased re-opening of embassies and consulates. Each embassy/consulate will announce when they will re-open and when appointments will be available.  You will need to check the website of a particular embassy or consulate for the most up to date information about visa appointment availability. You will need the updated I-20 (I-20 with remarks that Towson University will be hybrid for fall 2020) for your visa appointment

How do I stay updated about my F-1 or J-1 status?
International students are encouraged to regularly review the ISSO website and to check their e-mail messages from the ISSO. Any changes or new guidance will be reported on these platforms. 

Spring 2020 Information

For information on remote learning, immigration regulations and travel guidance for spring 2020, please read our letter to students (PDF).

I am only allowed to take one online class towards my full-time enrollment requirements each term. Will I be out of status now that all the classes are remote?
The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State have temporarily removed their restrictions regarding online classes. At this time, F-1 and J-1 students are allowed to take all their classes online for Spring 2020.  There is no change for summer 2020.

Now that all classes are online for spring 2020, can I return to my home country and continue my classes this spring term?
Yes. You may return to your home country and continue your classes.  F-1 students who leave the U.S. and continue their studies will still maintain their F-1 status. For more information see: “Should I return to my home country?”

TU is allowing undergraduate students to take classes with a pass, credit, or fail option for spring 2020. Can undergraduate international students change their grade option?
Yes. As a degree-seeking student you can select this option. You should discuss these options with your Academic Advisor before you choose this option. Some majors are not allowing students to use this option. Also remember that you still need to complete all the work for the class.

*NOTE:
Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission has approved students to select the Pass, Credit, Fail option
Kuwaiti Cultural Mission HAS NOT APPROVED the pass, credit, fail option. Students must obtain a letter grade.
For questions, please contact the Sponsored Student Programs Office (

Other sponsored students should check with your sponsoring agency before changing your grade option. 

Last Updated July 28, 2020