OISS COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

We want you to know that OISS is still ready to serve and support you. If you are still in St. Louis, you know that we are under a legal order to Stay at Home. The only acceptable reasons to go outside are to buy food or medicine, to go for a walk, or to mail an OPT or STEM OPT application. It is important that we all follow these rules 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

Is the OISS staff working, even with the Stay-at-Home order in St. Louis?

Although Washington University’s campus is closed, 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.

As always, we are available for “walk-ins”, 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 Virtual English Corner on Wednesdays at 4:00 pm and Virtual Game Nights on Fridays at 5:00 pm. 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.

If your family/last name begins with… Your OISS Advisor is… Book a Virtual Walk-in Appointment here
A-E, O Claire Seely https://go.oncehub.com/OISSClaireS
G Alayna Hutchinson https://go.oncehub.com/OISSAlaynaH
H-K, M & R Lara Jennings https://go.oncehub.com/OISSLaraJ
L, P Ezinne Arizor https://go.oncehub.com/OISSEzinneA
F & S Natasha Mokeyeva https://go.oncehub.com/OISSNatashaM
N, T-X Jeanne Pizarro https://go.oncehub.com/OISSJeanneP
Q, Y-Z India Baker Hudspeth https://go.oncehub.com/OISSIndiaBH

If your OISS advisor is out due to illness, please schedule an appointment with Martha Turner.

Emailing your advisor remains the same. Please find your advisor and their email address listed below. Your OISS advisor is based on the first letter of your family name.

If your family/last name begins with… Your OISS Advisor is… Your OISS Advisor’s email address is…
A-E, O Claire Seely claire.seely@wustl.edu
G Alayna Hutchinson hutchinsona@wustl.edu
H-K, M & R Lara Jennings lara@wustl.edu
L, P Ezinne Arizor earizor@wustl.edu
F & S Natasha Mokeyeva nmokeyeva@wustl.edu
N, T-X Jeanne Pizarro jpizarro@wustl.edu
Q, Y-Z India Baker Hudspeth ibhudspeth@wustl.edu

If your OISS advisor is out due to illness, please email Martha Turner.

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

OISS cannot currently provide travel signatures. Remember that you do not need a travel signature to leave the U.S., you only need one to reenter.

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. In July, OISS will have a system in place so that students who are outside the U.S. and need a travel signature can request an electronic I-20 on our website. We will email you with more information at that time. If you plan to return to the U.S. before July, please contact your OISS advisor.

OISS recommends that current F-1 and J-1 students do not travel outside of the United States during summer 2020. Click here for more information about Travel during Summer 2020.

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.

  • U.S. consulates throughout the world are currently closed so no visa applications are being considered.
  • The Social Security Administration has closed their offices temporarily.
  • USCIS has closed offices but continues to process OPT applications and STEM OPT Extension applications remotely.

My Missouri driver’s license is going to expire. How can I renew it if the license office is closed because of the Stay-at-Home order?

Valid Missouri driver licenses (Class A, B, C, E, F and M), non-driver licenses, and noncommercial instruction permits with original expiration dates of March 1, 2020, through April 30, 2020, have been granted an automatic 60-day extension; these licenses and permits will be considered to have a valid status for driving and local document acceptance purposes. For example, a driver license with an original expiration date of March 1, 2020, will be considered valid until April 30, 2020. Similarly, a driver license with an original expiration date of April 30, 2020, will be considered valid until June 29, 2020.

For more information, visit Department of Revenue News Release.

Do I still have to file my U.S. income taxes by April 15, 2020?

The Federal tax deadline and the Missouri state tax deadline have both been extended from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. These new deadlines are applicable for international students as well as U.S. citizens.

OISS has resources for filing taxes on our website.

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

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.

Due to the Stay-at-Home order, your OISS Advisor can process your application and update your SEVIS record. However, we are not currently able to mail you an updated I-20 or DS-2019. Once the Stay-at-Home order is lifted (currently 04/30/2020, subject to change), your OISS Advisor will be in touch with you about getting your new I-20 or DS-2019.

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.

Due to the Stay-at-Home order, your OISS Advisor can process your application and update your SEVIS record. However, we are not currently able to mail you an updated I-20. Once the Stay-at-Home order is lifted (currently 04/30/2020, subject to change), your OISS Advisor will be in touch with you about getting 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 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 has been automatically extended for two months. This means that anyone with a May 15, 2020 original program end date has now been automatically extended to July 15, 2020. This will allow you more time to remain in the United States, in case you wish to stay, or are unable to go home at this time.

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 in mid-to-late June 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.

What if I’m not enrolled full-time or I dropped a class after the semester starts?

International students are required to be enrolled full time every Fall and Spring semester. If you are struggling with your courses and are thinking about dropping a class, you need to get authorization before dropping the class. Please reach out to your OISS Advisor for more information. Students can now submit Reduced Course Load Applications by email to their OISS advisor.

Due to the Stay-at-Home order, your OISS Advisor can process your application and update your SEVIS record. However, we are not currently able to mail you an updated I-20. Once the Stay-at-Home order is lifted (currently 04/30/2020, subject to change), your OISS Advisor will be in touch with you about getting your new I-20.

I am graduating in May, but I can’t find a flight home. How long can I stay in the U.S. legally after graduation?

We have heard from students who would like to leave and return home as their academic program is ending but have been having trouble making travel arrangements and are worried about overstaying. Remember, 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 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.

All of my classes are online now. Is that OK for my F-1 visa status?

As you are aware, due to health considerations as a result of the current pandemic, the university, along with many other colleges and universities throughout the country, have cancelled in-person classes and moved all learning to online platforms. Under normal circumstances, F-1 students may not be enrolled in more than one online course per semester. However, recognizing that these are extraordinary times, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced that students can temporarily engage in distance-learning, either from within the U.S. or outside the country, so that students can continue to make normal forward progress in their program of study. This means that F-1 students who maintain a full-time course of study through the WashU’s temporary on-line programming coursework will continue to maintain their F-1 status.

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

Although SEVP has indicated that distance learning may occur outside the U.S., nevertheless, 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. It took longer for SEVP to address the 5-month limit but they have now 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.”

I am thinking about going home for the rest of the semester. Will that cause a problem for me?

We know that some students are trying to decide whether to stay in the U.S., either in St. Louis or elsewhere, or return home for the summer. When making that decision it is important to consider the possibility that return travel to the U.S. may be restricted. Students with summer internships or other planned activities in the U.S. may have difficulties reentering the U.S. given the growing list of countries with restrictions on re-entry.

If you are graduating in May or August:

  • Please note that you cannot apply for OPT while outside the U.S.
  • If you have already applied for OPT, we do not recommend leaving the U.S. before you have your OPT EAD card. If you leave the US, you may not be able to re-enter the U.S. without the card.
  • Please keep in mind the travel restrictions currently imposed for a growing number of countries may impact your ability to return to the U.S. to apply for OPT or to start a postgraduate position.

If you are considering a summer internship in the US:

  • Please keep in mind the travel restrictions currently imposed for a growing number of countries may impact your ability to return to the U.S. to start your internship.
  • If you plan to do a summer internship, please contact your OISS Advisor about applying for CPT work authorization in advance.

If the visa in your passport has expired or will be expiring this summer:

  • U.S. consulates throughout the world are currently closed. It is not clear when they will reopen and resume processing visa applications.
  • You must have a valid visa in your passport in order to enter the US.
  • Please be aware that if you leave the U.S. and are unable to renew your visa before the Fall 2020 semester starts, you may need to take a Leave of Absence. This means your SEVIS record would be closed, and there could be potential implications for future CPT and OPT work authorization. Contact your OISS Advisor to talk about these risks.

We understand that the uncertainty about how SEVP as well as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will view status and entry eligibility makes it stressful and difficult to make plans. Do not hesitate to contact your OISS Advisor via email if you want to discuss your specific situation as you try to make decisions about the coming 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. 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 the 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.