Maintaining F-1 and J-1 Status
How does the university’s change to online or hybrid (online and face-to-face) courses affect my enrollment requirements?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and the Department of Homeland Security published a new broadcast message and FAQ page regarding the Fall 2020 semester on July 24, 2020. SEVP reverted back to the March 9 guidance and provided additional information, clarifying how to handle new and initial international students versus continuing international students. Recently, SEVP confirmed this guidance will continue for spring 2021.
Because Colorado State University will operate a hybrid model of part online and part face-to-face or classroom courses, new and continuing students may travel to the United States to take classes on campus. Continuing students who wish to remain outside or inside the U.S. and study online may do so. These students must continue to take a full course load, which is a minimum of nine credits for graduate students or twelve credits for undergraduate students. By taking a full course load, students may keep their immigration (SEVIS) status active. This is beneficial to maintain eligibility for employment (OPT) benefits. If you have individual questions, please email ISSS@colostate.edu.
Additional updates will be made available at www.ice.gov/coronavirus. Please keep checking the ICE site for new details.
How will I know if my classes are all online, hybrid, or a mix of online and face-to-face instruction?
You can find more information about how to read a course schedule on the COVID Recovery website.
If in doubt, please contact the course instructor or your academic advisor to determine if the course has a face-to-face component. As some course offerings continue to evolve with their instructional method, monitor your coursework to see if anything changes.
If I am outside of the U.S. for longer than five months, will that violate my immigration status requirements?
The Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program continues to issue updated guidance (scroll down to the section titled “Nonimmigrant Student and SEVP-Certified Schools” and the FAQs there.) At this time, they are confirming that international students maintaining active status will not be subject to the five-month temporary absence rule. Since the Fall 2020 semester guidance will continue through Spring 2021 semester, this means we will be able to keep your SEVIS record active if you remain outside the U.S. for more than five months while you continue to make normal progress on your degree program.
Please remember that this is an evolving situation that is subject to change. CSU will continue to monitor the situation and provide updated guidance.
How will the rule that international students should not be outside of the U.S. for longer than five months apply to student transfers?
The five-month rule related to student transfers will not apply to students affected by COVID-19. For transfer students that exceed the five-month period, international advisors can contact the Student & Visitors Exchange Program (SEVP) Response Center for a data fix.
What are my options if I want to take a semester off and wait for the situation to subside? Can I do this from my home country?
If you wish to take off the Spring 2021 semester, your SEVIS record will be terminated and you will need to depart the U.S. right away. You will need to demonstrate sufficient proof of funding so that we can create a new I-20 for you (you will also need to pay the $350 SEVIS fee again) before you will be able to return to the U.S. to continue your studies.
If you are an undergraduate student, consider applying for planned leave. If you are a graduate student, you can enroll in continuous registration to keep your student record at CSU active while you take off for the Spring 2021 Semester. That way, you won’t have to re-apply to CSU when you return.
If students wish to drop courses due to dissatisfaction with the level of instruction being offered remotely, can a school submit a procedural change plan that allows this and keep the students’ SEVIS records active?
No, students should maintain a full course of study to the extent possible. If a student is unwilling to take courses being offered remotely or participate in other alternate forms of study as provided in the school’s procedural adaptation plan to SEVP, they should request a temporary absence and be terminated for Authorized Early Withdrawal.
What if my program ends and I am not able to return to my home country because of travel bans/health risks?
Remember that F-1 students have a 60-day grace period and J-1 students have a 30-day grace period at the end of their program. If you do not believe you will be able to leave the U.S. by the end of your grace period, you can consider applying for post-completion employment (Optional Practical Training for F-1 students and Academic Training for J-1 students). F-1 students are able to apply for OPT (Optional Practical Training) before they have a job offer. However, J-1 students cannot apply for Academic Training without a job offer in place.
If you do not wish to apply for employment authorization, you can also file a Change of Status to another visa status such as B-1/B-2 (tourist).
Can I remain in the U.S. if my visa is expired? What documentation do I need to keep active in order to stay here legally?
Yes, you can remain in the U.S. after your F-1 or J-1 visa has expired, as long as your passport and I-20 or DS-2019 remain valid.
June 24: Presidential Proclamation
On June 22, 2020, President Trump signed a Presidential Proclamation suspending the entry of foreign nationals into the United States in H-1B, H-2B, or L status, as well as the J-1 Exchange Visitor program categories of intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, and the summer work travel program.
This suspension is effective immediately and has been extended to remain in effect until March 31, 2021.
The proclamation was made in response to global COVID-19 cases.
The proclamation does not affect:
- Any other visa types, including F-1 students
- J-1 Exchange Visitors in any category offered at CSU, including Non-Degree Student, Degree-Seeking Student, Research Scholar/Professor, Short-Term Scholar, Specialist, or Student Intern
- Individuals who are already in the United States, including those with a pending or future Change of Status application to H-1B, H-2B, or L status
- Individuals who have a valid non-immigrant visa
- Individuals who have an official travel document other than a visa (such as a transportation letter, boarding foil, or advance parole document)
- Any lawful permanent resident of the United States
- Any spouse or child of a U.S. citizen
- Individuals who will provide temporary labor or services essential to the U.S. food supply chain
- Individuals whose entry is in the national interest according to Department of State of Department of Homeland Security
How can I get an updated travel signature on my immigration document?
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we can email you a new I-20 with a travel signature. Travel signatures are valid for up to one year so check to be sure that you don’t already have a valid travel signature.
If I leave the U.S., will I have any problems returning for future semesters?
Due to ongoing travel restrictions, halting of U.S. visa issuance, and other COVID-19 related travel issues, it is possible that students may not be able to return to the university for the Spring 2021 semester. Please check this website for up-to-date information regarding travel restrictions to the U.S.
If I do not want to return home now, am I allowed to remain in the U.S.?
As long as you maintain your student status by making normal progress toward your degree, you can remain in the U.S. If you change addresses, please let us know by updating your address in RamWeb.
Are U.S. consulates and embassies issuing visas?
In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State suspended routine visa services at all U.S. embassies and consulates from March 20-July 15, 2020. As resources and safety allows, embassies and consulates will resume routine visa services as well as continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services.
Is it advisable to travel at all right now, including back to my home country, if I want to return in the next few months?
Due to the worldwide situation, travel right now is extremely risky for health reasons and because new travel restrictions may be put in place that would impact your ability to return to the U.S. in the near future. Unfortunately, because travel restrictions are dictated by the spread of the virus, it’s impossible for us to forecast what restrictions may be put in place, when, and for how long. You will need to weigh the risks with your personal situation to evaluate what is best for you.
Is there a time frame for when students are expected to return to the United States once the COVID-19 pandemic is over and schools have resumed normal operations?
Depending on their school’s return to normal operations and any continuing travel restrictions, students should seek to return to the United States within 30 days of the next available session start date. SEVP also anticipates providing additional guidance after the COVID-19 pandemic ends regarding a school’s return to normal operations.
Will I be required to quarantine upon my arrival at CSU?
No, currently CSU students are not being required to quarantine unless they test positive for COVID-19. To see the latest updates, answers to frequently asked questions, and current COVID-19 case numbers at CSU, please visit: https://covid.colostate.edu/
Employment Authorization (OPT and CPT)
I am currently on post-completion OPT (Optional Practical Training). Are there any accommodations if I am not able to work and exceed the 90-day unemployment limit?
The Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program has recognized that the spread of COVID-19 may impact students engaging in Optional Practical Training. Changes to workplace requirements may impact international students engaging in practical training. SEVP encourages such students to consult with their employer to seek alternative ways to maintain employment, such as teleworking or other arrangements.
At this time, there is no indication from SEVP that the 90-day unemployment limit will be waived or extended. If you are approaching your 90-day unemployment limit and fear you will not be able to start working due to the COVID-19 situation, please contact email@example.com or sign into a remote advising session to discuss your options with an ISSS advisor.
I‘m planning to apply for post-completion OPT (Optional Practical Training) in the near future. Is USCIS still processing applications and, if so, will there be delays in their processing timeline? Is the process still the same?
ISSS is continuing to review requests for Optional Practical Training, and USCIS is still accepting applications. Students who applied between October 26, 2020, and January 8, 2021, have reported delays in their checks being cashed and receiving an electronic notification or receipt notice, despite proof of delivery of their OPT application to USCIS. We are not sure yet how this will impact the overall processing times.
Am I able to work remotely on CPT (Curricular Practical Training) or OPT (Optional Practical Training)? If so, do I need to report that to the ISSS office?
Yes, it is okay to work remotely on approved CPT or OPT authorization.
Can I still do OPT (Optional Practical Training) if I go back to my home country?
Since the Fall 2020 semester guidance will continue through the Spring 2021 semester, you should still be able to maintain your F-1 immigration status by enrolling in a full course load from abroad. As long as you return to continue your full-time studies on-campus once courses resume to an in-person format, you should be able to apply for OPT. Approval will require you to return to the U.S. to be employed. This could be tricky though. Travel while your OPT application is pending is always discouraged and we don’t recommend trying to return to the U.S. until you have your Employment Authorization Card and a job offer letter. With this in mind, it is probably best for you to return to the U.S. before your program ends to apply for OPT while in the U.S.
We highly recommend you review current global public health advisories and keep track of any travel restrictions in place. Please also consider your ability to access online learning, factor in travel limitations, and remember that this is an evolving situation that is subject to change. Please review current travel advisories at travel.state.gov.
I have been furloughed or had my hours reduced during COVID-19. Am I accruing unemployment days?
For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their Optional Practical Training (OPT) opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT.
How do I know if I can return to the U.S.?
There are currently restrictions on the entry of travelers into the United States who have been present in certain countries in the last 14 days. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention website keeps an updated list.
Other Employment and Financial Concerns
What are my options for employment?
The regulations regarding student employment authorization remain the same. Students must apply and be approved for off-campus employment authorization (CPT/OPT). See more information on our website.
Am I eligible for the federal stimulus payment?
We have received questions from international students and scholars in regard to the CARES Act and the economic stimulus payments being issued by the federal government. To the extent we are able to determine, the stimulus payments are being sent to individuals with a social security number that filed a “resident” federal tax return for tax years 2018 and/or 2019. Individuals that are determined to be “residents” for tax purposes are eligible to receive a stimulus payment. Individuals that are “nonresidents” for tax purposes are ineligible to receive a stimulus payment.
It is important to understand that the terms “resident” and “nonresident” are used by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in a way that is very different than the way those terms are used for immigration purposes. For tax purposes, an individual can become a resident simply by being in the U.S. long enough. For example, F-1 students generally become tax residents after they have been in the U.S. more than five years. To further complicate matters, an individual can revert back to being a nonresident after having been a tax resident if they leave the U.S. for a significant amount of time. This may affect individuals who spent a significant amount of time outside the U.S. in 2020 due to COVID-19. While the exact calculation of residency is a rather complex application of the substantial presence test, students and scholars can use GLACIER Tax Prep when it becomes available in February 2021 to determine the proper tax filing status.
Additional information for determining tax filing status and the substantial presence test can be found on the following IRS webpages:
There may be a small number of international students and scholars that erroneously filed a resident tax return while their status was actually nonresident. This can easily happen by using widely available tax preparation software that does not perform a calculation of tax residency status. For example, an F-1 student may have accidentally filed a resident return (Form 1040 rather than Form 1040NR) prior to being in the U.S. for more than five years. Individuals that incorrectly filed a resident return or whose tax residency status reverted to nonresident in 2020 may receive a stimulus payment by mistake. These payments should be returned to the IRS.
- Return of Stimulus Payment:
Individuals who know they are a nonresident alien for tax purposes should not spend an erroneously received stimulus payment. The IRS provides guidelines for an incorrectly issued tax refund. Detailed instructions can be found here.
- Amendment of Incorrectly Filed 2018 and/or 2019 Federal Income Tax Return:
Individuals who inadvertently filed a tax return as tax resident when their status was actually nonresident should file an amended tax return. Information about how to amend the incorrectly filed 2018 and/or 2019 tax return may be found in GLACIER Tax Prep by selecting “FAQ” from the menu.
GLACIER Tax Prep can be accessed through your GLACIER Online Tax Compliance account if you maintain one through the CSU Tax Office. Otherwise, GLACIER Tax Prep is accessed by visiting the website and entering your user ID and password from last year or creating a new account. If you are new to GLACIER Tax Prep, you will be prompted to enter the CSU common access code which will be available through International Programs starting in February 2021. (Please do not share this code with individuals not associated with Colorado State University.)
After accessing the system, you will create your own unique user ID and password. Individuals should use the common access code only once. In order to access the system again later, individuals should use their own user ID and password.
Individuals needing to prepare an amended return may also contact the local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Email messages can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While tax issues are beyond the scope of our expertise, it is important to note that failure to file a correct federal income tax return and/or filing a fraudulent federal income tax return are violations of U.S. tax law and may potentially impact current or future immigration status.
Lastly, please note that Colorado State University does not provide personal income tax advice or assistance. Information contained in this resource is intended to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice. Anyone with specific tax-related questions are encouraged to seek the advice of a competent expert in the field.
I have financial concerns, for example, paying my tuition and/or rent. What resources are available for me?
CSU is currently exploring options to support students who have lost their employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students will be receiving information from CSU soon.
Student Case Management is working with students who need utility and rent and other kinds of assistance. Here’s a link to that info and students can request an appointment with Student Case Management via their website:
Student Legal Services might be able to help students who have questions about breaking their lease or having trouble getting a landlord to work with them on a payment plan or waiving late fees. They have a guide on their website for students struggling with their current lease obligations and thinking of breaking the lease.
The COVID-19 situation does not give legal grounds to get out of the lease, but several things should be considered: go to https://sls.colostate.edu and click on the resource next to “current lease.” Students wanting appointments with Student Legal Services can click on the request an appointment at this same homepage.
Where can I find information about commencement?
No formal indoor commencement ceremonies were held in 2020 due to COVID-19. Videos from virtual and outdoor celebrations can be found here.
You will still be considered a graduate of CSU and receive your diploma regardless of whether you participated in any graduation events.
If I am a new incoming international student, what are my options?
The Spring 2021 semester will begin on January 19, 2021. You will need to make a visa appointment as soon as possible, if you haven’t already. While you are waiting for your visa, you can study online from your home country.
If you need to arrive after January 19, 2021, please email email@example.com so we can update the start date on your I-20.
I am experiencing mental or physical health issues, what should I do?
CSU’s Health Center is providing phone and online counseling services for students experiencing mental health concerns. For other health issues, including COVID-19 related concerns, please see the Health Center’s website for information.
Is CSU still offering Open Advising for international students?
Yes! We are offering remote advising, Monday – Thursday from 10 – 11 a.m. and 1 – 3 p.m. Find the link to join a Zoom advising session on our website.
Starting on February 1, 2021, ISSS has resumed limited in-person hours on Mondays from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. and Thursdays from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., available by appointment only. Schedule an appointment here.
If you can’t attend a remote advising session because of time zone or technical issues, you can also email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.