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Immigration FAQ

Untitled design (17).pngPlease find below answers to immigration-related questions regarding the COVID-19 outbreak.
Due to the fluid nature of this situation, please continue visiting this page for the most up-to-date information. 

Immigration FAQs for F1 Students


How does the transition to virtual instruction affect my F-1 immigration status?

Prior to COVID-19, F-1 students were limited on the number of online courses/credits in which they can enroll. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) provided additional guidance to support F-1 students.

Guidance from SEVP states "SEVP will allow F-1 students to temporarily count online classes towards a full course of study in excess of the limits stated in the regulations.
This temporary provision is only in effect for the duration of the emergency..."
This means that although all your courses may be considered online, you will be considered maintaining your status for spring semester 2020.

Am I allowed to return to my home country while the Spring semester is in session?

Yes. President Stanley's email on March 11, 2020, states "During Spring semester, students doing purely remote work can return to their permanent place of residence and we strongly encourage this because there are advantages for social distancing." OISS will continue supporting you while outside the U.S. Your academic advisor and professors will also continue supporting you while outside of the U.S.

I don't know if I should depart or remain in the United States. What should I do?

OISS wants you to be comfortable and safe. The decision whether to return to your home country is a personal one and should be considered carefully. We encourage all students to discuss this decision with your support system and with an advisor in OISS. Whether you travel outside of the U.S. or stay in the U.S., OISS will be available to support and advise you.

If I leave the U.S., are there any restrictions on being able to return to campus for spring or the next academic semester?

If you departed the U.S. and want to return to continue your studies in spring, summer or fall 2020, we highly recommend you review current global public health advisories and keep track of any travel restrictions in place. That might mean restrictions put in place by your home country, countries where you are transiting and restrictions put in place by the United States government. Contact OISS to discuss any travel restrictions put in place by the U.S.

What are the COVID-19 travel restrictions?

The March 14 Presidential Proclamations update suspends entry into the U.S. of all immigrants and Nonimmigrants who were physically present within the following countries during the 14-day period preceding their entry to the United States:

  • People's Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau)
  • Iran
  • 26 Schengen Area countries
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland

Please consult with OISS about potential changes as this is a very fluid situation.

How long will the COVID-19 travel restrictions continue?

Unfortunately, this is unknown. OISS will monitor the situation and will communicate with students as necessary.

Am I allowed to stay in the U.S. during the spring semester?

F-1 students are not required to depart the United States during spring semester. Like all F-1 students, you are required to maintain your F-1 visa status and continue full-time enrollment. If you will complete your program in Spring, you must either transfer your I-20 to another institution, apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), or depart the U.S. within 60 days of the last day of classes. If you complete your studies in Spring, your I-20 will automatically complete within 60 days.

If you are planning to enroll for the fall 2020 semester, you are eligible to remain in the U.S. during the summer semester. Summer is considered a vacation semester and you do not need to be enrolled full-time if you are full-time during the spring 2020 semester and planning to enroll as a full-time student for fall 2020. Students are required to enroll for in-person courses for fall 2020 as soon as fall enrollment becomes available. Students are limited to one online course towards their full-time course load.

Will MSU terminate my I-20 if I depart/departed the U.S. prior to the end of the Spring semester?

If you maintain full-time enrollment during the spring 2020 semester and you are planning to continue your studies/enroll full-time for fall 2020, MSU will not terminate your I-20.

My I-20 program end date is expiring in May 2020. However, I will not complete my studies in Spring. I need to enroll in a course required for my major during summer and/or fall 2020. What should I do?

If your I-20 is expiring and you need to continue your studies beyond the program end date, then you must apply for an I-20 extension prior to the program end date. Complete the F-1 I-20 Request Form and submit to OISS as soon as possible. Once the program end date expires, your I-20 will auto-complete and students will need to depart the U.S. and request a new I-20.

What is the Five-month rule?

The five-month rule refers to the termination of a student's record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) based on the student being away from classes or not in status for five months.

This rule applies to the following students:

  • Students who have had their student record terminated (i.e., been out of status) for more than five months; and
  • Students who have spent more than five months outside of the United States during an absence from school, excluding those participating in authorized study abroad programs

Will the five-month rule apply to me, since I might be away from MSU for more than five months?

SEVP recently provided guidance regarding the five-month rule. SEVP states, "Under current conditions, if an active F student leaves the United States to complete the spring semester online, their SEVIS record should remain in Active status and not be terminated."
While these temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, students will be considered as maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study. Because of this, the five-month rule addressed in the regulations will not apply for students who remain in Active status.

I have a valid F-1 visa. Does that guarantee my entry into the United States?

An F-1 visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. An F-1 visa only allows a student to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port-of-entry have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States.

After you present your passport, visa, and Form I-20 (endorsed for travel) at the port-of-entry, a CBP official will make the decision to allow/deny you entry to the United States. Once you are allowed to enter the United States, the CBP official will provide an admission stamp and electronic Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record.

How can I get a travel signature?

F-1 students are not required to get a travel signature to depart the U.S. Students should request a travel signature electronically. Students are required to complete the form and OISS will issue an updated I-20 endorsed with a travel signature.

If COVID-19 continues until fall semester, will I be able to continue my studies at MSU?

Due to the fluid nature of COVID-19, it is unknown how long this pandemic will continue. The university is in constant contact with the Ingham County Health Department and continues to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MSU will base its decision on guidance from governmental entities. OISS will communicate any developments regarding summer or fall courses/enrollment.
Students should enroll for in-person courses for fall 2020 as soon as enrollment opens.

I am completing my studies in the  Spring 2020 semester; can I still apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Eligible F-1 students who are completing their studies in Spring 2020 and are located in the U.S. at the time of application are eligible to apply for OPT.
Students who will complete their studies in Spring 2020 but have departed the U.S. are not eligible to apply for OPT at this point.

I am completing at the end of the summer semester; can I enroll in online courses?

MSU announced that all summer 2020 sessions/semester will be online.

If you are outside of the United States and wish to complete your final course(s) outside of the U.S., you are eligible to enroll for online courses. You must complete the Notice of Departure for F-1 Students. Failure to complete the Notice of Departure for F-1 Students may cause your I-20 to be terminated. Students are not eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) from outside of the United States.

Students who in the United States are eligible to enroll in online courses and will be able to maintain their immigration status by enrolling in online courses. Students who are completing their studies at anytime during summer, should apply for Reduced Course Load for Final Semester.

Can I depart the U.S. after I mail my OPT application to USCIS? Am I eligible to apply for re-entry to the United States?

Yes, you can depart the U.S. when an OPT application is pending at USCIS. However, if you receive a letter in the mail while abroad, you are required to respond to USCIS immediately. If you are abroad and unable to respond, your OPT application might be denied. OISS recommends that students remain in the U.S. to ensure you can respond to any correspondence from USCIS.

I am currently on OPT and I am nearing the end of my 90 days of unemployment, but I am unable to leave the United States. What should I do?

Unfortunately, no additional guidance has been released for students who are approaching their 90 days of unemployment. Students are required to work full-time while on Optional Practical Training (OPT). Full-time employment on OPT is defined as working a total of at least 20 hours per week. All employment must be related to a student's field of study. We encourage students to consider unpaid work that does not violate any United States labor laws.

I am currently on STEMP OPT and my employment has been affected by COVID-19. 


Individuals on STEM OPT who have had a change in employment that creates a material change to their I-983 due to COVID-19, must submit a new I-983 to OISS as well as the MSU OISS Employment Update form.
Material changes include but are not limited to:

  • Any change of the employer's EIN
  • Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked
  • Any significant decrease in hours per week that a student engages in a STEM training opportunity
  • Changes to the employer's commitments or student's learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983
  • Change of work site address (example: working remotely due to COVID-19)

I currently have an active CPT and my employment has been affected by COVID-19. 

If you are currently on CPT and your employment have been affected by COVID-19, connect with OISS to discuss any required updates.

I am on OPT/STEM OPT and my employer has closed. Am I eligible to apply for unemployment? 

Individuals who have questions related to unemployment benefits should look to the unemployment benefits section of the US Department of Labor website. Additionally, individuals should look to their state of residency for state-specific guidelines on unemployment.

Is OISS open? 

OISS is open and ready to serve all students and scholars through online advising. We are currently offering virtual advising by:

  • Appointments: 20-minute Zoom video conference sessions at various times, Monday-Friday
  • LiveChat Advising:Offered 1 – 3 PM (EST), Monday-Friday

 

Immigration FAQs for J1 Students

How does the transition to virtual instruction affect my J-1 immigration status?

Prior to COVID-19, J-1 students were limited on the number of online courses/credits in which they can enroll. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of State is allowing J-1 students to maintain status while attending online courses. While this flexibility will not last forever, there is not currently an end date established.

J-1 students can therefore maintain valid visa status while attending online classes at MSU in the Spring 2020 and Summer 2020 semesters.

Am I allowed to return to my home country while Spring semester is in session?

Yes. President Stanley's email on March 11, 2020, states "During Spring semester, students doing purely remote work can return to their permanent place of residence and we strongly encourage this because there are advantages for social distancing." OISS will continue supporting you while outside the U.S. Your academic advisor and professors will also continue supporting you while outside of the U.S.

I don't know if I should depart or remain in the United States. What should I do?

OISS wants you to be comfortable and safe. The decision whether to return to your home country is a personal one and should be considered carefully. We encourage all students to discuss this decision with your support system. Whether you travel outside of the U.S. or stay in the U.S., OISS will be available to support and advise you.

If I leave the U.S., are there any restrictions on being able to return to campus for spring or the next academic semester?

If you departed the U.S. and want to return to continue your studies in spring, summer or fall 2020, we highly recommend you review current global public health advisories and keep track of any travel restrictions in place. That might mean restrictions put in place by your home country, countries where you are transiting and restrictions put in place by the United States government. Contact OISS to discuss any travel restrictions put in place by the U.S.

What are the COVID-19 travel restrictions? 

The March 14 Presidential Proclamations update suspends entry into the U.S. of all immigrants and Nonimmigrants who were physically present within the following countries during the 14-day period preceding their entry to the United States:

  • People's Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau)
  • Iran
  • 26 Schengen Area countries
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland

How long will the COVID-19 travel restrictions continue?

Unfortunately, this is unknown. OISS will monitor the situation and will communicate with students as necessary.

Am I allowed to stay in the U.S. during spring semester?

J-1 students are not required to depart the United States during spring semester. Like all J-1 students, you are required to maintain your J-1 visa status and continue full-time enrollment. If you will complete your program in Spring, you must either transfer your DS-2019 to another institution, apply for Academic Training (AT), or depart the U.S. within 30 days of the last day of classes. If you complete your studies in Spring, your DS-2019 will automatically complete within 30 days.

If you are planning to enroll for the fall 2020 semester, you are eligible to remain in the U.S. during the summer semester. Summer is considered a vacation semester if you are full-time during the spring 2020 semester and planning to enroll as a full-time student for fall 2020. Students are required to enroll for in-person courses for fall 2020 as soon as fall enrollment becomes available. Students are limited to one online course towards their full-time course load.

Will MSU terminate my DS-2019 if I depart/departed the U.S. prior to the end of Spring semester?

If you maintain full-time enrollment during the spring 2020 semester and you are planning to continue your studies/enroll full-time for fall 2020, MSU will not terminate your DS-2019.

My DS-2019 program end date is expiring in May 2020. However, I will not complete my studies in Spring. I need to enroll in a course required for my major during summer and/or fall 2020. What should I do?

If your DS-2019 is expiring and you need to continue your studies beyond the program end date, then you must apply for a DS-2019 extension prior to the program end date. Complete the J-1 Student Extension Request and submit to OISS as soon as possible. Once the program end date expires, your DS-2019 will auto-complete. You would then need to depart the U.S. and request a new DS-2019 if you wanted to continue studying in the U.S.

What is the Five-month rule?

The "five-month rule" is a rule that applies to F-1 students. It does not apply to J-1 students. There is no regulatory limitation on how long a J-1 student can stay outside of the U.S. at present.

I have a valid J-1 visa. Does that guarantee my entry into the United States?

A J-11 visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. A J-1 visa only allows a student to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port-of-entry have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States.

After you present your passport, visa, and DS-2019 (endorsed for travel) at the port-of-entry, a CBP official will make the decision to allow/deny you entry to the United States. Once you are allowed to enter the United States, the CBP official will provide an admission stamp and electronic Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record.

How can I get a travel signature?

J-1 students are not required to get a travel signature to depart the U.S. Students should request a travel signature electronically. Students are required to complete the form and OISS will issue an updated DS-2019 endorsed with a travel signature.

If COVID-19 continues until fall semester, will I be able to continue my studies at MSU?

Due to the fluid nature of COVID-19, it is unknown how long this pandemic will continue. The university is in constant contact with the Ingham County Health Department and continues to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MSU will base its decision on guidance from governmental entities. OISS will communicate any developments regarding summer or fall courses/enrollment. Students should enroll for in-person courses for fall 2020 as soon as enrollment opens.

I am completing my studies in Spring 2020; can I still apply for J-1 Academic Training (AT)?

J-1 students who are completing their studies in Spring 2020 are eligible to apply for AT. Students must be able to begin AT inside the U.S. between 05/02/2020 and 05/31/2020.

I am completing at the end of the summer semester; can I enroll in online courses?

If you are outside of the United States and wish to complete your final course(s) outside of the U.S., you are eligible to enroll for online courses. If you do not intend to return to the U.S. by 05/31/2020 to undertake Academic Training, then you must complete the Notice of Departure for J-1 Students. Failure to complete the Notice of Departure for J-1 Students/Scholars may cause your DS-2019 to be terminated.

MSU announced that summer 2020 session one, and summer 2020 full sessions will be online. Decisions regarding summer two have not been made as of yet.

If you are graduating in summer 2020 and enroll for your remaining credits, you are eligible to maintain your J-1 student status, regardless of whether those courses are online or in-person.

If you need to enroll in less than full-time, you are required to apply for Reduced Course Load for your Final Semester.

I am currently on Academic Training and my employment has been affected by COVID-19. 

Individuals on Academic Training who have had a material change in employment should notify OISS of the changes via an email sent to jvisas(at)msu.edu.

Material changes include but are not limited to:

  • Any change of the employer's EIN
  • Any reduction in student compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked
  • Any significant decrease in hours per week
  • Changes to the employer's commitments or student's learning objectives
  • Change of work site address (example: working remotely due to COVID-19)

I am on Academic Training and I have lost my training opportunity. Am I eligible to apply for unemployment?

First, you must worry about maintaining status. If one AT position ends, you have 30 days to start a new AT opportunity. Individuals who have questions related to unemployment benefits should look to the unemployment benefits section of the US Department of Labor website. Additionally, individuals should look to their state of residency for state-specific guidelines on unemployment.

Is OISS open?

OISS is open and ready to serve all students and scholars through online advising. We are currently offering virtual advising by:
Appointments: 20-minute Zoom video conference sessions at various times, Monday-Friday
LiveChat Advising:Offered 1 – 3 PM (EST), Monday-Friday

Immigration FAQs for H1B Visa Holders

Can H-1B employee be benched during non-productive time at MSU?

Just a friendly reminder that H-1B regulations include a "no benching" rule. This rule requires the employer to continue to pay the wage rate to an employee in non-productive status unless the non-productive status is a common benefit such as maternity leave, illness, etc.

An employer is responsible for paying the required wage to the H-1B employee at all times during the Labor Condition Application (LCA) validity period and as specified on the LCA and Form I-129. Even if an employee is "benched," i.e., placed in a non-productive status for reasons such as training, lack of license, lack of assigned work, or any other job-related reason, the employer must still pay the employee the required wage. Furthermore, if the LCA carries a designation of full-time employment, the employer must continue to pay the full amount listed on the LCA even if the employee works less than full time. If the LCA carries a designation of part-time employment, the employer must pay the employee for the time actually worked, but no less than the number of hours indicated on Form I-129.

For example, if a Research Assistant/Research Associate in H-1B status who provides lab instruction to students must now move to online instruction and works less than full time and/or is in non-productive status for extended period of time, they must still continue to be paid full time wages listed on LCA/I-129.

Can I premium process my petition?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a suspension of Premium Process (expedited) service for H-1B and green card applications. This will dramatically slow these applications. In some cases it may delay when a new employee may begin work, and for others it may affect international travel. Each case may be different depending on the start date and travel plans. Please contact OISS advisor to discuss details.

Can I apply for H-1B visa from abroad? 

In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time. For more information, visit the Department of State travel website. 

Can I travel to Canada or Mexico? 

In order to limit the further spread of coronavirus, the U.S. has reached agreements with both Canada and Mexico to limit all non-essential travel across borders. For more information, visit the Department of Homeland Security website.