OISS COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

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

Last updated 9/30/2020

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 are working remotely and are ready to assist our students. OISS will continue to process requests for Reduced Course Loads, Extensions, Transfers, CPT, OPT and STEM OPT. Please contact your OISS advisor for assistance.

We are available for Virtual Walk-in Advising Appointments Monday through Thursday from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm, 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 is holding Virtual Walk-in Advising Appointments via Zoom. You can sign up for a 15-minute virtual appointment with your OISS advisor from 1:30-3:30 pm, Monday through Thursday.

Your OISS Advisor is based on the first letter of your family name.

Your family name begins with… Your student advisor is…
A, B, C, D, E and V Claire Seely
314-935-3562, contact Claire by email or make a virtual apointment
F, S and Z Natasha Mokeyeva
314-935-9612, contact Natasha by email or make a virtual appointment
G, N, O and R Alayna Hutchinson
314-935-5910 contact Alayna by email or make a virtual appointment
H, I, J, K and M Lara Jennings
314-935-5922, contact Lara by email or make a virtual appointment
L and P Ezinne Arizor
314-935-5532, contact Ezinne by email or make a virtual appointment
T, W and X Jeanne Pizarro
314-935-5904, contact Jeanne by email or make a virtual appointment
Q, U and Y India Baker Hudspeth
314-935-7649, contact India by email or make a virtual appointment

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 now have confirmation that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), the Department of State, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will accept electronic signed I-20s, so your OISS advisor will email you a new I-20 with a travel signature on it. We recommend you then print that I-20 so that you have a hard copy with you when you travel. You should be able to use this new I-20, along with your valid passport and valid 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, and we have confirmation that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), the Department of State, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) will all accept electronic signed I-20s. So if you need a new I-20 for any reason, your OISS advisor will email you a new I-20 with a travel signature on it.

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 students.wustl.edu/bias-report-support-system. 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.

We very much want to ensure that all international students feel accepted as part of the campus and St. Louis community. Please see an open letter to the WashU student community from the CDI.

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.

Are international students eligible for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus check?

Students who are resident aliens for tax purposes, fall within the income eligibility guidelines and filed taxes in 2019 are eligible for the $1200 payment which is part of the recent bill passed by Congress. Most international students are nonresident aliens and thus will not be eligible. Please use these links to learn more on determining resident alien eligibility and on the CARES Act.

Only those considered a resident for tax purposes are eligible for the government’s stimulus check. 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 Q52. 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 Fall 2020 semester? Am I allowed to take online classes this Fall 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) has made some exceptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

OISS has created a guide that outlines how these exceptions apply to different groups of students for Fall 2020. If you have questions about these exceptions or 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 Fall, what should I do?

If you don’t want to take courses this fall, 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.

If I am a new international student and I am not able to enter the US in the Fall due to difficulty getting a visa, can I study in the Fall from abroad or defer my start?

New international undergraduate students:

Please contact Undergraduate Admissions. Our understanding is that first-year undergraduate students would need to begin their program online from abroad in the Fall, or apply for a Gap Year. It is not an option to take a gap semester for Fall 2020 and begin your program in Spring 2021.

New international graduate students:

Please contact your specific school or program for more information about their deferral policies.

All New International Students Please Note:

Your I-20 start date is connected to when you arrive in the US. You do not need an I-20 to study remotely from outside the US during Fall 2020. Having your I-20 start date deferred until Spring 2021 is NOT the same as deferring your admission until January or taking a gap year.

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

You should contact Residential Life for more information about Fall 2020 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. At this time you do not need the paper I-20.

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 going to be 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.

Your OISS Advisor can process your application and update your SEVIS record, and will then email you your new I-20.

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

The Department of State announced during the Spring 2020 semester that due to the current COVID-19 situation they would be extending all J-1 DS-2019s with upcoming expiration dates. If your DS-2019 had a program end date between April 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020, your DS-2019 was automatically extended for two months. This means that anyone with a May 15, 2020 original program end date was automatically extended to July 15, 2020. This allowed  more time for students to remain in the United States.

In addition, remember that 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 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). J-1 students have a 30-day grace period. The government has not provided any exceptions to allow students to stay legally in the U.S. beyond their 30- or 60-day grace period after graduation. Students who cannot manage to leave in time should consider either applying for OPT or Academic Training, or applying for a change of status to a tourist visa status. To apply for OPT or Academic Training, 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?

SEVP has indicated that distance learning may occur outside the U.S. Normally, in order to maintain an active F-1 record in SEVIS, a student may not be out of the U.S. for a period of more than 5 months. However, SEVP has stated that “the five-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(4) will not apply for students who remain in Active status… SEVP will allow F and M students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study in excess of the limits stated in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v), even if they have left the United States and are taking classes online elsewhere.”

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. How can I do that if OISS is closed?

OISS is hosting Virtual OPT Workshops on Zoom! The first step to apply for OPT is to attend an OPT Workshop. 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. Can I still mail my application to the OISS if the office is closed?

Please do NOT mail anything to the OISS. We are unable to go to the office to check the mail, due to the Stay-at-Home order and the University’s closure.

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. For more information about applying for an STEM OPT Extension, visit our website.

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?

We have heard from students who would like to leave and return home as their OPT or STEM OPT is ending but have been having trouble making travel arrangements and are worried about overstaying. 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. As of last week, the response from SEVP has been that DHS is evaluating these issues and may issue additional guidance. We do not know what the outcome will be, but we know SEVP has is aware of these concerns and we will continue to work collectively with our associations to have them addressed. 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.