ISSO COVID-19 Student FAQs


Fall 2020 Update (July 14)

This FAQ page was created in mid-March when SEVP introduced modifications to student regulations to accommodate the disruption caused by the COVID-19 emergency for students who were enrolled in the spring 2020 term. These modifications remain in place for continuing students for fall 2020, following the government's agreement on July 14th to rescind a fall policy directive that was issued on July 6th. The March guidance did not address new students for fall. 

Update (July 24)

SEVP released further clarification for fall 2020, confirming that:

  • F-1 New/Initial students may apply for a visa and enter the United States to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the Fall 2020 term to pursue a full course of study that is not 100% online. A hybrid program is not 100% online.
  • F-1 Continuing/Active students from Spring 2020 may remain in the U.S. to study whether their course of study is hybrid or fully online, and to maintain active status if they continue to study online full-time abroad.

The Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) administers the J-1 student program. EVP guidance is in accordance with SEVP guidance for F-1 students.

See Related Resources at the bottom of the page for links to the latest information.

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Student FAQs

Return to Campus

Columbia University has set requirements for individuals arriving to campus. Campus requirements are on the university's COVID-19 page for students. Your school or department may also share requirements with you closer to the start of your program. Additionally, the state of New York may also specify quarantine requirements for international arrivals. At this time the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has guidelines in place that suggest all individuals arriving from outside the U.S. should self-quarantine for 14 days.

A great resource is a video of the University Life Forum for Students on Returning to Campus, recorded on July 22, 2020.

Immigration status

Department of Homeland Security guidance confirms that continuing/active students will maintain their immigration status while studying online in the U.S. or abroad. You must continue to be enrolled full-time and make normal progress toward your degree. See explanation of full-time enrollment here.

  • Columbia is offering a hybrid mode of instruction (combination of online and in-person) for Fall 2020 which will include the option to participate remotely. Your academic program will inform you of the details. 
  • If you are in your final semester and you do not require a full-time course load to complete degree requirements, you are allowed to be less than full-time and maintain status.

Yes. Continuing/active students are continuing to be maintaining status while abroad, as long as they continue to be enrolled full-time and make normal progress toward their degree.

F-1 regulations refer to a gap semester or year as a Leave of Absence (LOA). If you are considering an LOA, contact the ISSO for case-specific advice, as this decision can have a significant impact on your F-1 student status. There are no special instructions or accommodations for those considering a LOA. 

To initiate a leave of absence, you must begin with your school/department. Please review our website for information on Leaves of Absence and returning from a leave

You need to  report a change of your U.S. residential address here to update your SEVIS record as required by regulation.

Travel and Visas

You do not need a new I-20 with updated remarks regarding Fall 2020 because it is no longer required after the government agreed on July 14th to rescind their July 6th policy directive for fall 2020.

You may need a new I-20 with an updated travel signature if your current signature has expired or will be expired on the date you plan to travel back to the U.S. Check to see if you require a new signature and how to request a new I-20/DS-2019 with updated signature here.

Travel documents: To return to the U.S., you will need valid travel documents, including an I-20 or DS-2019** with a program end date that is after the date you return to the U.S. and a travel signature that has not expired on the date you plan to return. 

Travel and visa restrictions: In addition you will need to check the travel and visa restrictions that may be in place at the time you are planning to travel. Check the travel resources at our COVID-19 Hub for current information. It is impossible to predict if and when other restrictions will be put in place or lifted by the U.S. Department of State.

Visa: You don't need a new visa if your current visa will be unexpired on the date you plan to return to the U.S.  If the visa in your passport has expired* or will be expired when you plan to return to the U.S., you will need to obtain a new visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate before you can re-enter the U.S. (Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter the U.S.). on July 14th, the Department of State (DOS) announced the phased resumption of routine visa services on a post by post basis. We recommend you continue to review the website of the consulate or embassy at which you intend to apply for your US visa to stay informed of any further updates in their services.

  * If you will be traveling to Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands, please read here to see if you can benefit from automatic revalidation.

  **Students who have a J-1 Exchange Visitor program sponsor other than Columbia University should check with their sponsor for guidance.

Your visa is an entry document and does not determine how long you may stay in the U.S. It is not a problem if it expires while you are in the U.S.  You may stay in the U.S. with an expired F-1 or J-1 visa as long as you maintain your immigration status by being in possession of a valid I-20 or DS-2019 and by meeting normal academic requirements. (Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter the U.S.)


The Department of State updated national interest exemptions for certain travelers from the Schengen Area, the U.K. and Ireland on July 16, 2020.

Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland with valid F-1 visas have been granted an exemption from the Presidential Proclamations that suspended entry from these areas, and do not need to seek an individual national interest exception.

J-1 students should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to obtain a national interest waiver. 


Unfortunately, F-1 regulations require you to be physically in the U.S. at the time you submit your OPT application. If you are abroad make sure you return to the U.S in F-1 status before the end of your final semester. Refer to the OPT Application process on our website.

You are allowed to leave the U.S. when an OPT application is pending at USCIS, but there has always been an element of uncertainty. The basic risk factor is that if you receive correspondence from USCIS in the mail to your U.S. address, you would not be there to respond. That has always been true and in these extraordinary times it remains to be true.

In the best case scenario, if your application goes through smoothly, your EAD is delivered to a valid U.S. address, and someone checking your mail takes an image of your EAD and emails it to you for you to print, you may be able to enter the U.S. with your travel documents (I-20, EAD print out and valid visa).

If you are outside of the U.S. with an approved OPT application but without the EAD in hand, it may be a problem reentering the U.S.

An additional risk factor in the time of COVID-19 is that international travel and visa restrictions are unpredictable.

US government guidance indicates that for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, students who are working on OPT fewer than 20 hours per week are still engaging in OPT and are NOT accumulating any days of unemployment. They have not specified a minimum number of hours that must be worked.

Yes, you can work remotely temporarily for a U.S. employer while on OPT and you do not need to do a second report that the job is remote. If you are currently engaged in the STEM OPT Extension, you don’t have to submit a new I-983 if working remotely. 


Yes, the ISSO will continue to process CPT applications as normal. In recent SEVP guidance, they confirmed that students may engage in CPT abroad, “...provided they are enrolled in a program of study of which the CPT is an integral component, the [ISSO adviser] has authorized the CPT in advance, and either the employer has an office outside the United States or the employer has a means to assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives."

Options to remain in the U.S. after graduation

You have four options:

  1. Remain in the U.S. and apply for Post completion OPT (for F-1 students) or Academic Training (for J-1 students).
  2. Remain in the U.S. during the grace period after your program end date (on your I-20 or DS-2019). The grace period is 60 days for F-1 students and 30 days for J-1 students. Note that you are not allowed to work during your grace period. 
  3. Pursue another degree in the United States and transfer (if eligible) your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record to another institution. See here for F-1 Transfer, and here for J-1 Transfer.
  4. Change to another non-immigrant visa classification (H-1B for example).


Yes, the extension from April 15 to July 15 applies to nonresident tax returns as well. You can continue to use your UNI and password to access Sprintax from the ISSO website to file your tax return.

See our brief overview of the Tax-Filing Process which includes:

  • information on the Stimulus payment (and returning it if received in error),
  • filing an amended tax return if an error was made,
  • links to recorded Sprintax Workshop
  • links to Tax Workshop YouTube playlist.
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