International Studies & Programs

Home > Health and Wellness > COVID-19 Information > Immigration FAQ

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 F-1 Continuing Students

The below Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are specific to Continuing Students who are returning to the U.S. to continue their studies at MSU. New and Initial Students should visit the OISS website under Orientation. 

What is the definition of “continuing” students for I-20 purposes?

A “continuing” or “active” student is a student who established their F-1 status by entering the U.S. with an F-1 visa stamp, maintained their SEVIS record (I-20), and remained in valid immigration status. Examples of “continuing” student include:

  • A student who entered the U.S. before fall 2021 with an F-1 visa stamp and maintained their status.
  • A student who completed their program at MSU at one level of study and completed a level change while maintaining the same immigration record. For example, a bachelor student who completed their program and received admission to a master’s or Ph.D. level at MSU.
  • A student who transferred their immigration record (I-20) from another institution to MSU. 

What are the enrollment requirements for continuing students?

Students with ‘active’ status must enroll full-time. Typical standard enrollment requirements are below-note that some programs may be exceptions: 

  • Undergraduate: 12 credits 
  • Masters: 9 credits 
  • Masters with assistantship: 6 credits 
  • Doctoral: 6 credits 
  • Doctoral with assistantship: 3 credits
  • A Doctoral student who is coded “all but dissertation”: 1 credit

Can I enroll in 100% online course load?

Students with ‘active’ status can enroll for 100% online courses during the Fall 2021/spring 2022 semesters and maintain status, whether inside the United States or abroad. Students will need to enroll for full-time course load to maintain status. Students need to work with their academic advisors or graduate department to determine available courses.

New students and students with ‘initial’ status (establishing new status for Fall 2021) must enroll in at least one in-person or hybrid course to maintain status during the Fall 2021 semester.

Can I maintain my status from abroad?

Students with ‘active’ status must enroll full-time online to maintain status from abroad during the Fall 2021 semester and Spring 2022 semesters. Full-time enrollment is available on the OISS website. Students need to work with their academic advisors or graduate department to determine available courses.  

How can I apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT)? 

Students who have maintained ‘active’ status for at least one academic year may be eligible to apply for CPT.  Students should email the completed CPT application with the academic adviser’s signature and supplementary materials directly to their assigned OISS adviser. Standard processing times for OISS are 8-10 business days. Students must plan accordingly and should submit their requests in a timely fashion.

Can I apply for OPT from outside of the U.S.?

No, students must be in the United States to apply for OPT.


Travel

What are the current travel bans or entry restrictions to the U.S.?

Several Presidential proclamations suspend and limit entry into the United States by F-1 students who were physically present within the following countries during the 14 days preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.

Information about the geographic COVID-19 travel restriction proclamations can be found on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Website as well as the Department of State webpage.

What is the National Interest Exception (NIE)?

Students with valid F-1 visa stamps on their passports may travel directly from China, India, Iran, South Africa, and Brazil to the U.S. to begin or continue an academic program of study on August 01, 2021, or later. Students from these countries do not need to contact a U.S. embassy or consulate for an individual NIE. 

F-1 visa holders from the Schengen area, Ireland, and the United Kingdom may travel directly from the Schengen area, Ireland, and the United Kingdom at any time, even before August 1st. There is no requirement to contact a U.S. consulate or embassy for an NIE. New students may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days s before the start of their program start date.

Do I need COVID testing to enter the U.S.? Am I required to quarantine?

Information about policies and protocols for all MSU travelers (domestic and international) coming to campus can be found at the Together We Will website.

Additional information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.

Do I need to be vaccinated to attend MSU for Fall 2021?

MSU does not require the COVID-19 vaccine. All MSU travelers - domestic and international - who are returning to campus are asked to follow MSU health protocols for inbound travelers. Information about measures on campus can be found on the Together We Will Website.

Can OISS help me secure a visa appointment? 

Unfortunately, OISS is unable to assist in securing a visa appointment or an expedited request for a visa appointment. U.S. embassies and consulates are reopening around the world. Per the State Department, student visas are being prioritized. Students are encouraged to check their local embassy or consulate services' websites. Embassies and consulate services operate independently and their visa appointment availabilities depend on the public health situation in their locality.

Can MSU provide me with a letter for entry to the U.S. or for my visa appointment?

A standard letter of support can be found on the OISS website at Travel Letter for F-1 Students

What documents are required when traveling to the U.S.?

Students must have a valid I-20 (active students must have valid travel signature), a valid (unexpired) F-1 visa, and a valid passport to enter the United States. Students are encouraged to have a printed copy of their schedule showing full-time enrollment and a printed copy of their I-901 SEVIS fee receipt

What is the five-month rule?

The five-month rule applies to students who have been out of status or away from classes for more than five months. Information about the five-month rule can be found on the Study in the States website.  The five-month rule has been waived due to COVID-19 and until further notice, this will not apply to students who have been out of the US for more than five months.

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

The government recently provided guidance regarding the five-month rule. It 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 maintaining full-time enrollment and making normal progress in their course of study. Because of this, the five-month rule addressed in the regulations will not apply to students who remain in Active status.

I have a valid F-1 visa stamp. 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.

Do I enter the United States with a valid F-1 visa stamp even if I have a new SEVIS ID? 

There are inconsistent information about traveling with a new SEVIS ID and with a valid/unexpired F-1 visa stamp between the U.S. Department of State (the agency that issues visa stamps) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (the agency that interacts with international travelers at various airports) admits you to the U.S. 

The Department of State states that students who receive a new SEVIS ID should get a new visa stamp. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not indicated that a new SEVIS ID with a valid visa stamp will not be problem. Students have been allowed entry with a new SEVIS ID and a valid/unexpired visa stamp. 

OISS encourages all students in this situation to contact their local embassy or consulate service for clarification. 


Health and Wellness 

Where can I find information on health insurance and COVID-related questions?

OISS recently conducted a webinar on insurance and COVID restrictions. Visit the International Family Orientation Program website.

For information about U.S. Health Care and Insurance visit OISS' Health and Wellness page

Information about policies and protocols for all MSU travelers (domestic and international) coming to campus can be found at the Together We Will website.

Additional information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website


Connect with OISS

Is OISS open? 

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

  • Appointments: 20-minute Zoom video conference sessions at various times, Monday-Friday
  • LiveChat Advising: for quick questions. 1 – 3 PM (EST), Monday-Friday (excluding Wednesdays)

Due to the high volume of advising needs, students are urged to plan and allow at least 10 business days for processing employment authorization requests.

OISS website offers great advising information. Students are encouraged to utilize the OISS website. The LiveChat function will also provide students quick answers. 

How can I get a travel signature?

Students are NOT required to get a travel signature to depart the U.S. Students should request a travel signature electronically. Do not mail OISS your I-20. Complete the travel signature request form below and OISS will issue an updated I-20 endorsed with a travel signature. The updated I-20 will be mailed out to you. 

Who is my OISS advisor?

Students on an F-1 visa are assigned to a specific OISS advisor. In order to evenly spread advising caseloads, we have assigned students to an advisor based on the student's birth month. Visit the OISS Advising Team page to determine your OISS advisor.

For example: If you were born in December, you will click the November & December tab to determine your advisor.

How do I make an appointment with my OISS advisor?

To make an appointment with your OISS advisor, you must visit the OISS Advising Team page. We have assigned students to an advisor based on the student's birth month. Once you determine your OISS advisor, click on the drop-down tap and you will find a link to make an appointment with your OISS advisor. Students are encouraged to meet with their OISS advisor. 

What is MyOISS system?

MyOISS is an online portal that all international students will use during their time at MSU for immigration-related processes. For more information on MyOISS you can view this video

What are the current processing times at OISS?

Standard processing times for OISS are 8-10 business days. Students must plan accordingly and should submit their requests in a timely fashion.

How do I submit immigration-related applications to OISS?

Many requests are located in the MyOISS system. For a list of forms click here

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.