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.
Continuing students who are in the US may take a full course of study in person, hybrid, or fully online and remain in the U.S.
Continuing students who are outside the U.S. may take a full course of study online and maintain their F-1 status. The SEVIS immigration record of continuing students who are outside the US will be kept active as long as students remain enrolled full-time.
Is the ISSO open?
Towson University and ISSO are open. We are also available to assist students remotely via email (isso AT_TOWSON and Zoom, Webex, or phone appointments. Immigration requests must be submitted through the ISSO Portal. Normal in-person business operations with office hours from 8 am to 5 pm.
Can I continue to take more than one online class in the Fall 2021 term?
As TU will return to in-person classes in Fall 2021, international students should enroll in a full-time in-person course of study. You may take one online class as part of your full-time course load in the fall. Students who anticipate needing to enroll in more than one online class must consult the ISSO directly.
I have been studying from my home country since 2020. Can I continue to study online
in Fall 2021?
Per the current guidance, continuing students who are unable to return to the U.S. may take all online classes from outside the U.S. and still remain active in SEVIS. You will need to maintain a full-course load and complete the semester to maintain your status. However, as TU will return to in-person classes in Fall 2021, you may find it difficult to find enough online courses to maintain full-time 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 2021 semester. Can I
complete my work from outside the U.S.?
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?
The ISSO in PY 408 is currently open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday thru Friday. We recommend you call before coming to the office to check that an ISSO staff member will be able to see you. We are also available to assist students remotely via email (isso AT_TOWSON and Zoom, Webex, or phone appointments. Immigration requests must be submitted through the ISSO Portal. Normal in-person business operations will resume beginning July 6, 2021 with office hours from 8 am to 5 pm.
I need a travel signature. How do I get one from the ISSO?
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.
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.
I am currently outside of the U.S. Will I be able to enter the U.S.?
Please check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website for restrictions on the entry of certain travelers into the U.S.
What are the current restrictions on traveling and returning to the U.S.?
Many countries still have travel restrictions in place. If you choose to travel outside the U.S., you may be unable to return as soon as you would like (see I am currently outside of the U.S., will I be able to enter the U.S.? question) and/or may be subject to COVID testing and/or quarantine requirements upon your return.
Additionally, if you need to renew your visa while at home, U.S. embassies and consulates visa services are still delayed. Check the website of the 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 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 available for appointments. Please send an email to isso AT_TOWSON, with a description of your issue and a staff member will contact you to arrange a WebEx, Zoom, phone, or in-person meeting.
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 note that you must apply for OPT from within the U.S.
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.
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 the 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.
I need to renew my visa. When will U.S. Embassies and Consulates reopen?
Each embassy/consulate will announce when they will re-open (if still closed) 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 an updated I-20 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 our office. Any changes or new guidance will be reported on these platforms.
Last Updated May 17, 2021