OISS COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

We want you to know that OISS is still ready to serve and support you.

Last updated 2/18/2022

If you are still in St. Louis, you know that we are encouraged to limit our contact with others, wear a mask, wash our hands, and remain at least 6 feet away from others. It is important that we all follow these guidelines in order to minimize the harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone in St. Louis is going through the same restrictions and we understand how difficult, yet important, it is that we all comply.

Please keep in mind that as our national policies and healthcare recommendations change, our processes within OISS will also reflect these changes, so you should continue to read emails from OISS and check this page regularly for updates. As always, the mission of the Office for International Students and Scholars is to support international students. Even in these complicated times, our mission has not changed. We are here for you, even if we will be providing service in alternate ways in order to keep you and our community’s public safe.

General OISS Questions

Where is the OISS staff working?

The Office for International Students and Scholars staff have a hybrid schedule, and are ready to assist our students. OISS continues to process requests for Reduced Course Loads, Extensions, Transfers, CPT, OPT and STEM OPT, etc.

We are available for Virtual Walk-in Advising Appointments Monday through Thursday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., via Zoom. You can make an appointment with your OISS Advisor during these times. The OISS is also hosting other virtual events for students and scholars. See our Eventbrite page for more information.

We understand that it is difficult to keep up with the many changes occurring during this time. We appreciate your patience as we try to provide services in this difficult environment. We look forward to a return to normalcy and to having you back on campus. We are #WashUTogether.

How can I meet with or contact my OISS Advisor?

OISS holds Virtual and In-Person Advising Appointments Monday through Thursday from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Central Time. You can sign up for a 15-minute appointment with your OISS Advisor

I need a travel signature! How can I get one?

If you are a current student, and you do not have a current I-20 with a travel signature, or if your current travel signature is more than 6 months old, you can use our Travel Signature Request Form to request an updated travel signature on your I-20. We received confirmation that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), Department of State, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) accepts electronically signed I-20s. OISS Advisors can email a new I-20 with a travel signature directly to your WashU email address. We recommend printing the I-20 so that you have a hard copy with you when you travel, along with your valid passport and F-1 visa, to re-enter the United States.

Is OISS still sending physical I-20s, or can OISS send me an electronic copy of my I-20?

OISS is not sending any physical I-20s at this time. We are allowed to send electronic I-20s to all students.

What should I do if I experience discrimination or negative treatment because of COVID-19?

We are thinking of you during this difficult time when we, as a community, are flung far and wide, living separately in order to stay safe and healthy. While we have had very few reports of anti-international, anti-Asian or anti-Chinese incidents in the Washington University community or areas nearby the campus, if you experience such bias we encourage you to please alert your OISS Advisor or report it to the Bias Response and Support System (BRSS) at The BRSS gives you the option of reporting incidents anonymously; in addition, you can also speak with a member of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) to get resources and support, while maintaining your anonymity.

Listen to a Taiwanese American counselor from Habif Health & Wellness Center speak about Xenophobia (April 2, 2020 episode) on NPR’s We Live Here podcast.

U.S. Government Office Questions

Are the U.S. government offices (U.S. consulates, USCIS, Social Security Administration) open?

As you may be aware, there have been constant changes in government services due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • U.S. Consulates throughout the world are reopening and processing visa applications. Priority processing is given to F-1 and J-1 students.
  • Many of the license offices are open in St. Louis. OISS recommends that you be in touch with them directly about their current policies for applying for a license. Get more information about Obtaining a Drivers License.
  • o   The Social Security Administration is open. Eligible students can review information on how to apply for a Social Security Number.
  • USCIS continues to process OPT applications and STEM OPT Extension applications remotely.

Are international students eligible for the U.S. Economic Impact Payments or Stimulus Checks?

Only those considered a resident for tax purposes are eligible for the government’s stimulus check. Most students on a visa are non-residents for tax purposes unless they have been in the U.S. for a number of years, so they would not be eligible. Read more about U.S. tax filing status for internationals. Please use these links to learn more on determining resident alien eligibility and on the CARES Act.

If you are not eligible for the economic impact payments or stimulus checks, you are legally obligated to return it to the IRS and amend your tax documents, if necessary. The Internal Revenue Service has now provided information online about how to return those funds. The link to the full guidance is https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payment-information-center#more under Topic I: Returning the Economic Impact Payment. Remember to keep copies of the check and any correspondence and to send it with delivery tracking as it might be needed in the future.

Maintaining Visa Status Questions

What are the rules about taking online classes this Spring 2022 semester? Am I allowed to take online classes this Spring and maintain my F-1 status?

Under normal circumstances, F-1 students may not be enrolled in more than one online course per semester. However, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) made exceptions for Fall 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These exceptions, known as the SEVP COVID-19 Guidance was extended to May 2022.

New international students with an initial attendance I-20 must be registered in at least one in-person course during the Spring 2022 semester. This includes students who transferred to WashU in Spring 2022 but studied from their home country in Fall 2021. This does not apply to students who transferred directly from another US university but have not left the U.S. since March 9, 2020.

If you have questions about your particular situation, please reach out to your OISS Advisor, we are happy to help.

If I am a continuing student and I don’t want to take classes this semester, what should I do?

If you don’t want to take courses this semester, you should contact your OISS Advisor to discuss your specific situation. We can help you understand your options and how best to proceed. This is a complicated time and your OISS Advisor is here to support you.

What are the on-campus housing options for international undergraduate students?

You should contact Residential Life for more information about on-campus housing options. Residential Life is committed to supporting international undergraduate students with university housing and understand the special circumstances international students face.

I have a job offer and need to apply for CPT (F-1 students) or Academic Training (J-1 students), what should I do?

Students can now submit applications by email to their OISS Advisor rather than dropping off a form at OISS. For more information, please contact your OISS Advisor.

Your OISS Advisor can process your application, update your SEVIS record, and email you an electronic signed I-20 that you can use to begin working. Include, J-1 students may visit the OISS Office to pick-up DS-2019. OISS has not received approval to electronically sign or email DS-2019s.

I am on CPT and I have to work from home due to COVID-19. Do I need to update my address with OISS?

If you are working remotely on CPT due to the COVID-19 outbreak, you do NOT need to update your employment information to say that you are working from home.

What if my I-20 is ready to expire, but I’m not ready to graduate? Can I apply for an I-20 Extension?

Students can now submit I-20 Extension Applications by email to their OISS Advisor rather than dropping off a form at OISS. For more information, please contact your OISS Advisor.

I am a J-1 student and my DS-2019 ends soon, but I can’t find a flight home. What should I do?

All J-1 students have a 30-day grace period after their program end date, meaning you can stay in the U.S. an additional 30 days after your DS-2019 expires. If you do not think you will be able to leave the U.S. by that date, please contact OISS for further assistance.

Please note that you cannot work during this time unless you apply for Academic Training. If you are interested in learning more about Academic Training, please contact your OISS Advisor.

I am an F-1 student graduating soon, but I can’t find a flight home. How long can I stay in the U.S. legally after graduation?

F-1 students have a 60-day grace period after graduation, which means you can stay in the US legally for up to 60 days after graduation (not working or studying). Students who cannot manage to leave in time should consider either applying for OPT or applying for a change of status to a tourist visa status. To apply for OPT, contact your OISS Advisor. Information and instructions regarding applying for a change of status with Form I-539 can be found on uscis.gov.

I heard something about the USCIS’ 5-month rule. What is that and how does it affect me?

Normally, in order to maintain an active F-1 record in SEVIS, a student may not be outside of the U.S. for a period of more than 5 months. Due to COVID-19, SEVP relaxed their guidance allowing students who are enrolled in fully remote learning to remain in active F-1 status, even if they have resided outside of the U.S. for more than five months.

Can I volunteer in the US to help with COVID-19?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has given international students blanket authorization to volunteer as part of COVID-19 relief efforts. They have indicated that F-1 students are not required to obtain employment authorization if they volunteer in an activity related to COVID-19.

An international medical student at WashU alerted us to an opportunity that she has been involved in which would be particularly appreciative of international students participation. St. Louis Food Angels (www.stlouisfoodangels.com) has partnered with Washington University School of Medicine (https://studentcovid19response.wustl.edu) to provide free delivery of groceries and prepared meals during the COVID crisis.

OPT & STEM OPT Extension Questions

I am graduating soon and I want to apply for OPT.

OISS is hosting Virtual OPT Workshops on Zoom!  Please sign up via Eventbrite. On the day of the workshop, you will receive an email with a Zoom link to attend the virtual workshop.

If you have already attended an OPT Workshop, you can email your OISS Advisor to begin the OPT application process. Your OISS Advisor will provide you with specific instructions.

I am on OPT and need to apply for a STEM Extension.

OISS will now accept STEM OPT application requests by email. Please email your OISS Advisor the STEM OPT application form, Form I-983 and STEM OPT Administration Fee Receipt to begin the process. See more information about applying for an STEM OPT Extension.

I am on Post-Completion OPT and I have to work from home now. Do I need to update OISS or USCIS?

If you are in your first 12 months of Post-Completion OPT, you do NOT need to update your employment information to say that you are working from home.

I am on an OPT STEM Extension and I have to work from home now. Do I need to update OISS or USCIS?

On 04/16/2020, OISS received updated information from SEVP. Students on STEM OPT do not need to submit an updated form I-983 if they are working remotely or telecommuting due to the COVID-19 situation.

However, students who already submitted form I-983 to update their work address for remote work will need to submit form I-983 when they return to work at their employer’s location. The updated I-983 form must be completed with your employer’s address listed under Employer Site Information on page 3, section 5. Please submit the form to OISS as soon as possible after you return to your normal work site. We will then update SEVIS accordingly.

I’m on Post-Completion OPT, but now I have a reduced schedule because of COVID-19. Is it OK if I work less than 20 hours per week on OPT?

Students on OPT may work less than 20 hours per week and still be considered employed.

Students on post-completion OPT are required to work at least 20 hours per week to avoid accruing days of unemployment. For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, the SEVP has indicated that students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week are considered employed.

My OPT or STEM OPT is ending soon, but I can’t find a flight home. How long can I stay in the U.S. legally after the end date on my OPT/STEM OPT EAD card?

The government has not provided any exceptions to allow students to stay legally in the U.S. beyond their 60-day grace period after the end of OPT or STEM OPT. Students who cannot manage to leave in time should consider applying for a change of status to a tourist visa status. Information and instructions regarding applying for a change of status with Form I-539 can be found on uscis.gov.

I am on OPT or STEM OPT. I am approaching the maximum days of unemployment. What can I do?

Students on OPT are eligible for 90 days of unemployment during their 12 months of Post-Completion OPT. Students on the 24-month STEM OPT Extension are eligible for an additional 60 days (for a maximum of 150 days).

A number of higher education and international education organizations have requested that time spent unemployed during the COVID-19 emergency not count towards the post-completion OPT and STEM OPT unemployment limits. There has been no temporary changes and as a result the unemployment maximums remain in effect until further notice.

PLEASE NOTE: If you exceed your maximum unemployment time, you are not eligible for the 60-day grace period, as that is only applied upon completion of the OPT or STEM OPT period. Students who cannot manage to leave before reaching the maximum days of allowed unemployment should consider applying for a change of status to a tourist visa status. Information and instructions regarding applying for a change of status with Form I-539 can be found on uscis.gov.