Challenges facing international students

On July 17, 2020, University of Utah leaders hosted a webinar for international students regarding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s now-rescinded Fall 2020 Semester guidance and directives, the challenges and obstacles that international students are still facing, and the university’s efforts to accommodate students who have not been able to travel to the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

View the full transcript.

Submitted Questions & Responses


Below are the answers to questions submitted for THE INTERNATIONAL STUDENT TOWN HALL 


Now that the Department of Homeland Security’s guidance issued on July 6, 2020 has been rescinded, what does that mean for F-1 students for the Fall 2020 semester?

  • Under the current guidance, we believe that new and continuing students are eligible to obtain their F-1 visas from U.S. Embassies or Consulates to begin or resume their studies in the United States.
  • Furthermore, since the July 6th guidance has been rescinded, international students on an F-1 student visa do NOT need to be enrolled in at least one in-person class in order to maintain their status and remain in the United States. Students may choose to enroll in all online or remote classes, or choose classes offered in a variety of formats.
  • If students are currently located outside of the U.S. and unable to enter the U.S. for this Fall semester, students WILL be able to take all online or remote classes.
  • According to the current guidance, students will also be able to maintain their F-1 status, even if students are taking all online or remote classes, and even if students are currently located outside of the U.S.
  • Additionally, students will NOT need to be issued an updated I-20 document with remarks stating that a student will be enrolled in in-person classes. Students will be able to use the I-20 document that students have already been issued.
  • Despite the exception to allow for more flexibility with classes and class type that students with active F-1 status may take, students must remain enrolled in a full-time course load in order to maintain active F-1 status (enrolled in at least 12 semester credit hours for undergraduate students and 9 semester credits or 3 thesis hours for graduate students. This requirement applies whether you are currently located in the U.S. OR outside of the U.S. in order to maintain your active F-1 status.

How many in-person classes do I have to take to maintain my F-1 status?

Since the Department of Homeland Security guidance released on July 6, 2020, was rescinded on July 14, 2020, students on an F-1 student visa are not currently required to take a specified number of in-person classes. Students may take classes in all of the following formats: in-person, online, IVC (Interactive Video Conferencing)/remote, or hybrid. According to current guidance, students in active F-1 SEVIS status may remain in active status, even if currently outside of the United States, provided that the student remains enrolled in a full-time course load (12 semester credit hours for undergraduate students; 9 semester credits or 3 thesis hours for graduate students).

What are the options for the new admitted students who are not able to get visa appointments due to closed consulates?

We understand that it is difficult to obtain visas at this time since consulate offices have suspended normal routine visa operations for the past several months. The University of Utah will have fully online course blocks available for Freshmen students, as well as continuing undergraduate students. These courses are fully online and will be asynchronous, so students will not experience any difficulties with different time zones. Content will also be recorded and uploaded into Canvas. These fully online options will allow students to begin fulfilling their General Education course requirements.

The first option is offered through BlockU Global Citizenship

  • The full course block will last for 2 semesters and will allow you to complete all of your general education course requirements, so you can focus on classes for your specific major afterwards.
  • If you are interested in this course block, we encourage you to contact the Academic Advising Center and schedule an appointment with a BlockU Advisor.

The second option is a LEAP Online course cluster

  • LEAP is a learning community and is built around a small cohort of students and offers wrap around support.
  • Students will learn critical skills, complete General Education requirements and be able to connect with peers.
  • To discuss course options and register for these courses, please contact the Academic Advising Center to schedule an appointment.

For continuing undergraduate students, classes will be available in a variety of formats, including in-person, online (asynchronous learning), hybrid, and IVC or remote (synchronous learning). Students can find out more about a specific class and its format by searching the class schedule academic catalog. Through the class schedule catalog, students can also filter to search by a specific class format, such as searching for all online or IVC courses, or even all courses that will be taught in-person. However, please note that if you will be taking classes in a remote/IVC format outside of the US, certain challenges may exist, which may include accessibility constraints in certain countries or regions.

Synchronous classes, which are listed as “IVC” (Interactive Video Conferencing) in the course catalog, will be held in the Utah time zone, so if you will be in a different time zone, classes may be held at a time that may be inconvenient in your time zone.

At the graduate level, your academic program will identify which course types are available and may be most appropriate for you, so we encourage you to contact your academic advisor if you have any questions about available courses and the course format.

What do I do if I am unable to enter the United States for the Fall 2020 semester, or choose to leave the U.S., and I’m not interested in taking online or remote classes?

A few different options exist if you will not be in the U.S. for the Fall semester and do not wish to take online or remote classes:

  • Leave of Absence: The first option is that you may choose to take a Leave of Absence. The options is available to continuing students online. If you are a new student, you will need to defer your admission. If you choose to take a Leave of Absence, it will allow for you to keep your academic record open so that you will not need to reapply to return in the future. This is an appropriate choice only if you will be a continuing student, and will not be taking any classes during the Fall. However, please note that your academic record and your immigration record are considered separately. While your academic record will remain open, ISSS will need to close your immigration record. If you are interested in taking a Leave of Absence, you will need to work through the Registrar’s office, and also meet with an ISSS advisor.
  • Deferment: If you are a new student and you are unable to attend the University of Utah this Fall 2020 semester, but would still like to attend the U in the near future, your best option is to defer your admission. This option is available for undergraduate and graduate students through the Office of Admission. If you are a graduate student, you will need to contact your academic department first in order to defer. They will work with the Office of Admissions to defer your admission.

What are my options if I would like to remain in the United States, but I am not able to take classes this Fall? [Medical Reduced Course Load]

If you will be remaining in the U.S. and are experiencing a medical condition that will impact your ability to participate in classes this Fall, you may be eligible for a Medical Reduced Course Load. A Medical Reduced Course load allows you to take less than full-time enrollment, even down to 0 credits, and remain in the U.S. and maintain your status. This is an option that has always been available to you as an international student on an F-1 visa and the process to apply for it remains the same, and is not subject to any changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are working closely with a licensed medical practitioner in the U.S. and feel that you will need a Medical Reduced Course Load, please contact ISSS to set up an appointment with an advisor to discuss the process.

Are OPT applications actually being issued in the standard 3 month processing time, or are students experiencing longer processing times?

Currently ISSS continues to see decisions on OPT  within the standard 3 month time frame. However, USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Services), the government entity that processes and makes a decision regarding submitted OPT applications, may furlough thousands of staff members in August if it does not receive funding from Congress.  Therefore, it is possible that applications may be delayed in the future.

Does the “5 months rule” still apply for fall semester?

According to current guidance, students in active F-1 SEVIS status may remain in active status, even if currently outside of the United States, provided that the student remains enrolled in a full-time course load (12 semester credit hours for undergraduate students; 9 semester credits or 3 thesis hours for graduate students). This exception was allowed for the spring and summer semesters as well. Since this exception has been allowed to continue for the Fall 2020 semester, it is our understanding that students maintaining active F-1 status and enrolled in a full-time course load will not need to close their immigration record, even if they have been located outside of the United States for more than 5 months. However, we are still seeking further clarification on this particular question from the U.S. Government, and will update the ISSS website with any new information.

If I have to take all online classes from China, what will happen to my I-20 and visa?

Provided students do not have an expired I-20, and students remain enrolled in a full-time course load (12 semester credit hours for undergraduate students; 9 semester credits or 3 thesis hours for graduate students), the current guidance states that students can maintain their active F-1 status. If your F-1 visa in your passport expires, you will need to secure a new F-1 visa from the U.S. consulate prior to travel to the United States.

I currently reside inside the United States, but not in Utah. Am I allowed to take all online class in Fall 2020?

Based on the current guidance, students may maintain their active F-1 record status, even if they are taking all online classes, and even if they are outside of the United States. Therefore, yes, students can take all online classes in the Fall 2020 semester, even if not currently in Utah.

How many online credits can we take now?

The current guidance allows for students with active F-1 status to take classes in any format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This guidance provides an exception to the usual rule that students with active F-1 record status may only take up to 3 semester credit hours online. Therefore, due to this current exception, students can take a full-time course load online if they wish. Please remember that students must continue to take a full-time course load (12 semester credit hours for undergraduate students; 9 semester credits or 3 thesis hours for graduate students) in order to maintain their active F-1 status.

I’m currently outside of the U.S. I’m planning to travel back in the first week of August. Will I need a new I-20?

No, students may continue to use the I-20 that they currently have. However, students should remember to check their I-20 to see if an updated travel signature will be needed before traveling. Travel signatures are valid for one year. Please check the signature line on page 2 of the I-20 and look at the date that it was last signed. If it was more than one year ago, please request an updated travel signature from ISSS. Students can request updated travel signatures through the UAtlas (formerly known as iStart) portal on the ISSS website and submitting an e-form.

Is possible to take only online classes for Fall 2020 and what are the terms and conditions (i.e. credit requirements)?

Yes, due to the current exception allowed through DHS guidance issued in March 2020, which will now be continued through Fall 2020, students can maintain active F-1 status even if a student is taking all online classes. However, students will need to remain enrolled in a full time course load (12 semester credit hours for undergraduate students; 9 semester credits or 3 thesis hours for graduate students) in order to maintain their active F-1 status.

I am living in the U.S. on an F-2 visa. Is it possible to take all of my classes online on the F-2 visa in the U.S.?

F-2 spouses are permitted to enroll in courses part time. They may not engage in a full course of study. Since F-2 status does not require school attendance, online education is permitted as long as it is less than full time.

If I get my visa during the middle of the Fall semester, then will I be allowed to come to the United States immediately?

If you are planning to arrive after the first day of classes, please communicate this information to ISSS as soon as possible. Many complications may occur if you are arriving late. Customs and Border Protection looks at the start date listed on your I-20 when you enter the U.S. The start date is the first day of classes. Generally, CBP will allow for students to still enter the U.S., even after the start date listed, for 2-3 weeks. However, if you enter after your start date, it will be up to CBP to decide if they will allow for you to enter. If you are entering much later than 2-3 weeks after the start of the semester, it becomes increasingly likely that you may be denied entry to the U.S.

We strongly recommend that you do not attempt to enter the U.S. mid-semester, and instead we recommend that you either take online or remote classes or defer your admission to Spring 2021.

What should I do if I will be arriving after the start of classes, but within the next two weeks?

If you will be arriving after the start of classes on August 24, but within the following two weeks, please contact ISSS as soon as possible to notify them about your travel plans. ISSS can work with your academic department to notify them about your late arrival, and also issue a letter of support that you can use when you enter the U.S. Although the decision to allow entry will be up to Customs and Border Protection, a letter of support may help to answer any questions or concerns that the agents may have, and may help to facilitate entry.

Do all students need to complete the new Report Fall 2020 Status e-form?

Yes, we ask that all students on an F-1 student visa notify us about us about their intended location and plans for the Fall 2020 semester. For new students, this information will be collected during the International Orientation Online process, so you do not need to complete this e-form.

For continuing students, we ask that all continuing students complete this form once it becomes available. This e-form allows for ISSS to collect information about your location and your specific situation, and communicate with you about required immigration documents and anything else that you may need to come for Spring 2021.

How will taking all online classes and/or being outside of the U.S. for one or more semesters impact my ability to apply for OPT?

Unfortunately, the policy guidance available does not address any issues regarding OPT. We are still seeking further policy guidance and clarification from the Government about any potential impacts to OPT. Once we receive this information, ISSS will share the information through email blasts and on the ISSS website.

If you have additional questions that are not answered during this Town Hall, or if you have questions about your specific situation, please contact International Student & Scholar Services and we are happy to answer any questions that you have, or set up a time for you to meet with an international advisor to discuss your situation.

We also encourage you to read through the ISSS FAQS for the Fall 2020 Semester Due to COVID-19. ISSS will continue to post updates regarding any new information or policy guidance.