Ohio University

Outgoing Communication to Students

The office of International Student and Faculty Services encourages university departments to reference the correspondence sent to students below.

 

Spring 2021 Guidance - Week of December 14

Dear Students,

ISFS is writing to update you on immigration requirements for classes for the Spring semester. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), the U.S. government agency which manages the F-1 student immigration program, provided guidance to schools this summer about the F-1 visa rules pertaining to online classes, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government recognized that most schools would be unable to offer enough in-person classes for students to adhere to the normal requirements built into the F-1 regulations and modified them for Fall semester. 

Universities across the U.S. have been eagerly awaiting new guidance to be issued for the Spring semester 2021.  To date, no such guidance has been officially released, and we have been informed that it is possible that it will not be released at all.  Our SEVP liaison has informed us that in the absence of Spring guidance, we can continue to follow the guidance provided for Fall.  We’re writing today to explain how that guidance would impact you.  If Spring 2021 guidance does get issued, we will update you as quickly as possible. 

Please read the following headings to determine which advice applies to you. 

If you were present in the US as a student in F-1 status on March 9, 2020 

You must enroll full-time (a minimum of 9 credits for graduate students and 12 credits for undergraduate and OPIE students).  There are no limits on the number of credits that can be online. An entirely online schedule is acceptable. 

If you choose to study from outside of the U.S. for Spring semester, we can keep your SEVIS record active.  At the start of the spring semester, we will ask students to submit an eform indicating that they are studying from overseas for the spring. 

If you were not an F-1 student in the US on March 9, 2020 

This category would include any student who entered the U.S. to begin a new program in summer or fall of 2020.  You must enroll full-time (a minimum of 9 credits for graduate students and 12 credits for undergraduate and OPIE students).  You are required to have an in-person class in the spring.  This could be a single class that meets in-person, or a hybrid class.  Your remaining classes can be online if that is what is available. 

If you entered the U.S. after March 9 and have decided to leave and study while outside of the U.S., we will not be able to keep your SEVIS record active.  You will need to request a new I-20 when you are ready to return to the U.S., and you will need to pay the SEVIS fee again.  If you are considering this option, please feel free to contact us to discuss. 

Everyone 

If circumstances force Ohio University to move more students from in-person to online classes after the semester has started in Spring 2021, students in the U.S. will be able to maintain legal status regardless of the date they entered the U.S. 

Please let us know if you have questions about this information.  We are in an unusual situation of being instructed to apply outdated guidance to current circumstances, but we will do our best to answer.  And please watch your OHIO email over the winter break, in case spring guidance is officially released.   

Stay well, 

ISFS 

 

Duration of Status Proposal Update to all students - Week of October 5th

Dear Students,

The Department of Homeland Security recently proposed some changes to the F-1 and J-1 student visa rules.  We’re sending you this email to make you aware of what has been proposed, and to explain the process going forward. Please keep in mind that this proposal is only in the Public Comment stage of the official rule change process. That means that the public can have an impact on the rule by arguing about the specifics of the rule before it becomes an actual implementable regulation. It is important to remember that this proposed rule has no impact on you or your visa status right now.  

The Details of the Proposed Rule 

The changes revolve around something called “Duration of Status” (D/S).  For the past 4 decades students who have been allowed to enter the US as F-1 or J-1 students were given permission to stay as long as was necessary to finish their academic programs and any related work authorization.  Universities have had the authority to extend or shorten the program (on the I-20 or DS-2019 form) as appropriate.  If students finished a degree and started a new degree within a certain timeframe, the university was allowed to further extend their status to accommodate the new program. 

The proposed rule seeks to shift this responsibility from the university officials to the government.  The following are some of the provisions of the proposed rule: 

General provisions: 

  • Most students would be granted permission to enter the US for a maximum of 2 or 4 years, depending on various criteria.   

  • OPIE students would be subject to a lifetime limit of 2 years of English language study. 

  • The grace period following the end of the F-1 program would be reduced from 60 to 30 days.  (The J-1 grace period is already 30 days.) 

  • Students would only be allowed to pursue a maximum of 3 programs at the same degree level.   

  • Students could only move to a lower degree level (for example, from a PhD to a Bachelor’s) once. 

  • How would students gain additional time for study: 

  • Students who require additional time would need to file an extension application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).  Assuming the extension application is approved, the student would be granted additional time to remain in the US. OPIE students cannot apply for additional time beyond the 2 year limit. 

  • Extension applications would require financial documentation, biometrics (fingerprinting appointments), and an application fee.   

The following would be the only acceptable reasons for requesting an extension: 

  • Compelling academic reasons 

  • Documented medical illness 

  • Exceptional circumstances beyond the student’s control 

  • How would students gain additional time for post graduation work authorization: 

  • Students wishing to apply for post-graduation work authorization (OPT for F-1 students or Academic Training for J-1 students) would need to simultaneously apply for an extension of status with the USCIS.    

Financial implications: 

  • There are fees associated with filing for an extension with the U.S. government 

  • Fees have not been finalized as this rule is currently in the proposal stage. 

What does this mean for students currently studying in the United States?  

Under the proposal, students already in the US who have been granted D/S would be automatically transitioned to having a date-specific end date of either 4 years (from the date the rule becomes final – if it is finalized) or their current I-20 or DS-2019 end date, whichever comes earlier.  No applications or fees would be required for this transition.  Anyone with an application for OPT that is pending on the date the rule goes into effect would not be required to file for an extension.   Additional details are summarized on the NAFSA: Association of International Educator’s website.  

What happens next? 

This proposal is only in the Public Comment stage of the official rule change process.  Public comments will be accepted through October 26, 2020.  Then the Department of Homeland Security must analyze all of the comments.  This often leads to changes in the proposal.  Once all of the comments are analyzed, and any changes are made, the revised rule is sent to a government agency called Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  Once OMB is satisfied the agency is allowed to publish the rule with a future effective date, often 30 days. 

The Public Comment period is very important.  Instructions on how to comment are included in the NAFSA weblink listed above.  Universities across the country, including Ohio University, will be submitting comments explaining all of the problems with this proposed rule and urging that it be withdrawn by the agency.  We have also contacted the offices of the two Ohio Senators and Representative Stivers to urge them to help us get the proposed rule withdrawn.  Anyone with concerns about this proposed rule and the impact it will have on international students and higher education can do the same by finding contact information for their elected officials on the House of Representatives website and the Senate website.   

ISFS will update you as new details of significance become available.   

Sincerely, 

ISFS 

Newest government guidance on Fall 2020 sent to incoming and continuing students - Week of July 27th

Dear Student,

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued a Broadcast Message and a new FAQ document today to clarify the type of study allowed for the fall semester.  We’re sending this message to all students, so you are aware of the how it impacts you.  The key factor in determining this is to ask whether you were enrolled in a course of study in the U.S. on March 9, 2020. 

If you were enrolled in a course of study in the U.S. on March 9 you may continue to maintain your legal F-1 status as long as you enroll full-time.  It is ok if you end up taking all online classes, or if you have a combination of in-person and online classes.  You can also maintain your status if you take Ohio University online classes from outside of the US.  If you choose to study online from outside of the US, you must notify ISFS via email so that we can add an annotation to your SEVIS record. 

The one exception is for students who are outside of the U.S. and have changed degree levels between the end of the spring semester and the start of the fall semester.  (For example, students moving from OPIE to Pathway, Pathway to degree program, Master’s to Ph.D., etc.)  Since you will be entering the U.S. to start a new program you will need to follow the guidance below. 

If you were not enrolled in a course of study in the U.S. on March 9 then you are likely a new student looking to the enter the U.S. for the first time in F-1 status.  You must have at least one in-person class during the Fall 2020 semester to be eligible to enter the U.S.  An updated I-20 form that reflects the plans of the university should be sufficient for entry, but it will be your responsibility to ensure you enroll in at least one in-person course after you arrive. 

Please note that according to the clarifying FAQ (linked above), all students will be able to maintain status when the university moves to all online classes after November 20, as planned.  If the university is forced to move online earlier in the semester due to COVID-19 conditions, students will still be able to maintain their legal status. 

Please let us know if you have questions about this information.   

Sincerely, 

International Student and Faculty Services  

Important information regarding Fall 2020 email sent to incoming and continuing students - Week of July 20th

Dear student, 

 

Greetings from Ohio University!  This message is for students who are currently outside of the U.S.  (If you are currently inside the U.S., you may disregard this email.) We know that many of you have been asking questions regarding Fall semester and voicing concerns about making plans to join Ohio University students on campus in August. We know that there are multiple issues you need to consider as you determine your next steps. Below we have noted information regarding questions we have been receiving and felt important to share with all.  

 

Travel Ban Update 

You may be aware that on March 11, the President of the United States issued an Executive Order that banned the entry of individuals who had been in any of the Schengen countries, as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland, for the prior 14 days due to COVID-19.  We’re writing to let you know that on July 16, the U.S. State Department announced that students with an F-1 visa automatically qualify for a National Interest Exception to this policy.  Details about this exception are available on the State Department website.  We do not have information beyond what is shared on that webpage; however, it appears that you are not required to take any special steps to initiate this exemption.   

 

Obtaining a new I-20 

Please email us if you are planning to attend a visa interview or fly to the US in the near future.  We will create an updated I-20 form that indicates the university will have in-person classes for fall, and we’ll email it to you. 

 

Obtaining a Visa (For New Students)  

If you are still waiting to obtain your visa, it is important to know that you do not need to pay your SEVIS fee until just prior to your interview. If you have been unable to secure a visa appointment, please maintain contact with the Graduate College or Undergraduate Admissions to discuss your options. If you have paid your SEVIS fee and have decided that you will defer your admission to the university to a later semester, please know that the SEVIS fee is valid for one year. Even if deferral seems like the best option at this time, you can still attend your visa interview (once it is scheduled) and you can request an updated I-20 from your admissions office to support your new requested start date. 

 

Not sure you are able to arrive on time to start the semester?  

If you are a new student and don’t believe you will be able to arrive in time to begin your academic program this fall, please contact your admissions office for guidance.  If you were admitted to an undergraduate program, please contact Undergraduate Admissions to start that conversation.  If you are a graduate student, please contact the Graduate College for assistance. 

 

Booking Flights 

Due to the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 crisis, we highly recommend that you wait until you have secured your visa before you book a flight.  When you do decide to book, please be sure that the flight can be changed or refunded if circumstances change. Please also keep in mind travel restrictions as you plan your flight to the U.S.  

 

14 Day Quarantine 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that all visitors entering the US from abroad should self-quarantine for a period of 14 days upon arrival.  Please keep this in mind when arranging your flights.  Undergraduate students who will live in on-campus housing will be able to apply for temporary housing with move in as early as August 3.  All other students will need to determine their self-quarantine options.    

 

Orientation 

In promotion of safety considering the current COVID-19 pandemic, we will offer all sessions for orientation via Microsoft Teams. In addition, orientation will begin on Sunday August 16, 2020 instead of August 13. Orientation registration will be available soon. 

  

Academic questions/concerns 

We recommend that you direct any class or academic questions to your academic advisors or program directors.  

 

Sincerely, 

ISFS  

Update on rescinded SEVP guidance email sent to all students - Week of July 13th

Dear Student, 

We have good news to share!  Today the Trump Administration has rescinded the guidance they issued on July 6.  While ISFS has not received official guidance from SEVP or ICE, we are working with the expectation that we can revert back to the (pandemic) guidance issued in March 2020. That is the guidance that was used for the spring and summer semesters.  Our understanding is that current students can continue to study in the U.S., and maintain F-1 status, even if their classes are all online.  There is no need for students to be issued a new I-20 form.  ISFS will continue to update you if we receive further official guidance from the government. 

This also means that current students who are overseas and continuing their studies can maintain their F-1 eligibility if they choose to study from abroad.  (It should be noted, however, that anyone with an Initial status I-20 form cannot activate their record from overseas.  If you are outside of the U.S., have an Initial Status Form I-20, and don’t think you can return for the Fall 2020 term, please contact ISFS for guidance.) 

Please let us know if you have questions about this information.

Sincerely,

International Student and Faculty Services 

Recent SEVP guidance information email to all students - Week of July 6th

Dear Students, 

I am writing to follow up on our email from last night regarding the guidance that has been provided by SEVP related to the 2020 Fall semester.

First, I want you to know that we are doing everything we can to advocate on behalf of all international students at local and national levels. Second, you truly are such an important part of our Ohio University family and our Athens community. Third, we completely disagree with this guidance as we know the untenable position this puts many of you in. And finally, you are welcome and wanted in our community and as such we will continue to advocate for reasonable and supportive guidance for those of you who have entrusted us to support your education and growth here at OHIO.

Please keep a few things in mind as we navigate this guidance together:

  • Please keep yourself informed through emails that ISFS will send to you.
  • Please try to keep your focus on the here and now and not let the constant barrage of news and social media posts add stress to your life when we do not know if this guidance will stand.
  • Please do not make any immediate academic/life decisions based upon this guidance until you have spoken with both ISFS and your academic advisor.

As you may know, yesterday the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued long-awaited guidance for the Fall 2020 semester. For Spring and Summer semesters, SEVP granted universities and students a great deal of flexibility to adapt to the curricular changes made in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It was our hope that the same flexibility would be granted for the Fall. However, yesterday’s guidance has removed some of the allowances that were granted previously.

Ohio University has adopted a hybrid model of teaching for the Fall, meaning that there will be a combination of in-person and online classes. This new guidance does allow students to pursue studies in the U.S. under this model. However, there are some limitations you need to be aware of:

  • Degree-seeking students can take extra online classes. However, they must also have at least one face-to-face class.
  • Students are required to take the fewest number of online courses possible to allow them to make normal progress towards their degree.
  • Every student must be issued a new I-20 form that confirms they are adhering to the two above rules.
  • According to the guidance released on July 6, 2020, students currently outside of the U.S. cannot keep an active SEVIS record while pursing online courses from abroad.
    • On July 7, 2020, contradictory information was provided by SEVP, and we are now waiting on clarification before providing further information.
  • Students in the Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE) are not allowed to take any online classes.

The guidance also states that if a university must move to an entirely online format during the course of the semester, students would need to either return home or transfer to another institution.

There are many questions about this guidance that remain unanswered. We have contacted our SEVP liaison to ask for additional details, especially about the existing plan for the university to move from in-person to online after Thanksgiving. 

Once we have more details from SEVP we will be able to issue some recommendations that will help you determine your best options for the Fall semester.

There are many institutions that are standing up for all international students who are in the U.S. or wish to come someday to study. We hope this outpouring of support for students and advocacy against unreasonable guidance will result in a change to what was provided by SEVP yesterday. It is our goal that you be supported to remain at OHIO regardless of the teaching methods used during this unprecedented time we are facing with the continuing CO-VID crisis.

Our whole team at ISFS is here to support you, and we welcome your feedback and guidance and please do feel free to share your concerns. We will continue to provide the best support and advocacy that we can. You are welcome here, on our campus, in our community, and in our country.

Sincerely,

Diane Cahill and our ISFS team

Fall 2020 email sent to all continuing students

Dear Student, 

Ohio University has announced plans to return to campus for the Fall 2020 semester.  Details about the plan and safety precautions can be found here.  We know that you may have many additional questions beyond what was shared in the announcement about the coming semester.  In this email we will do our best to acknowledge these questions and answer with the knowledge we have at the current time.  As the summer progresses the answers provided here may need to be updated. 

When will visa appointments resume? 

We know that some students returned home during the spring and summer closure, with plans to return for the fall semester.  If you returned home, please check your F-1 visa stamp to determine if you will need to renew it.  At this time, U.S. embassies and consulates are not open for visa processing beyond emergency situations.  Unfortunately, embassies do not consider returning to university studies to be an emergency.  This has led to many of our students asking what they can do to get a visa in time to arrive for fall.   

The U.S. Department of State has not made any announcements about the reopening of embassies for visa processing.  Our expectation is that the timeline will vary based on the conditions in the location country.  Once they reopen, there is likely to be extremely high demand.  This means it may be difficult to get a visa and arrive by the orientation date printed on your I-20 form.  For this reason, we recommend that you do not book a (non-refundable) flight to the U.S. until you have obtained your visa. 

Please be aware that ISFS and Ohio University do not have any connections with the U.S. embassies, and we have no ability to help you obtain an earlier visa appointment. 

If your existing F-1 visa stamp has not expired, you can continue to use it to return to the U.S. 

What should I do if I’m currently in a country subject to a COVID-19 related travel ban? 

At this time, the US government has barred entry to any individual who has spent time in the following countries within the preceding 14 days:  Brazil, China, European Schengen Area, Iran, Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom.  We do not know when these bars will be lifted.  If the bars remain in place, the only way you will be allowed to enter is if you spend 14 days in a country that is not included on this list, and then travel directly to the U.S. from that location.  Students should also avoid flights with connections through the countries with a bar.  Please note that this list is subject to change at any time. 

Will I be required to quarantine upon returning to Ohio University? 

Ohio University is discussing quarantine expectations.  We do not yet have an answer to this question.  We will provide more information as soon as details are available. 

What should I do if I cannot make it back by the start of classes? 

You will need to contact your department or academic advisor to discuss your situation.  If you can make it back within the first couple weeks of the semester, it may be possible to work with your professors to start the classwork remotely.  If not, they may recommend that you take off the fall semester and return for spring instead.  The only immigration restriction is that ISFS must be able to report your full-time enrollment by our registration deadline.  For fall 2020, that deadline is 9/25/2020.  Graduate students should also ask departments how any funding may be impacted by a late return. 

If you determine that you will need to take off the fall semester, please contact ISFS (isfs@ohio.edu) for assistance with your immigration record. 

Will there be enough in-person classes for me to satisfy the F or J visa requirements? 

It is likely that we will see more online classes than usual this fall semester, as a safety precaution for COVID-19.  Ohio University (along with all other US institutions) is still waiting for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to provide guidance for the fall semester.  We were given a lot of flexibility in the spring and summer when classes went online.  It is our hope that this flexibility will continue for the fall, so that students are not struggling to find enough in-person credits.  As soon as we receive guidance from SEVP, we will share it with you. 

Will on-campus jobs return for the fall semester? 

Since the campus will reopen, it is expected that on-campus jobs will become available again.  It is unknown whether the volume will be the same as in prior semesters.  Please note that the plan for fall is that all classes will go online after Thanksgiving break.  This may mean that some on-campus jobs will end on November 24.  We do not have any additional information about this possibility at this time but want to bring this to your attention for planning purposes. 

Can I take all online classes while in the US? 

We are still waiting for guidance from SEVP about how much flexibility will be given for fall.  We will update you once we get this guidance. 

Fall 2020 email sent to all new incoming students

Dear Student,

Ohio University has announced plans to return to campus for the Fall 2020 semester.  Details about the plan and safety precautions can be found on the Fall 2020 Planning website.  We know that you may have many additional questions beyond what was shared in the announcement about the coming semester.  In this email, we will do our best to acknowledge these questions and provide the information we have.  As the summer progresses, we will update these answers as needed. 

When will visa appointments resume? 

At this time, U.S. embassies and consulates are not open for visa processing beyond emergency situations; however, many have begun scheduling visa interviews. Many new students have asked what they can do to get a visa in time to arrive for fall.   

The U.S. Department of State has not made any announcements about the reopening of embassies for visa processing.  Our expectation is that the timeline will vary based on the conditions in the country where the embassy is located.  Once embassies reopen, there is likely to be extremely high demand.  It may be difficult to get a visa and arrive by the orientation date printed on your I-20 form.  For this reason, we recommend that you do not purchase a (non-refundable) flight to the U.S. until you have your visa. 

Please be aware that International Student and Faculty Services (ISFS) and Ohio University do not have any connections with the U.S. embassies, nor do we have the ability to help you obtain an earlier visa appointment. 

Can I arrive later than August 12? 

Undergraduate students are permitted to arrive up until the day before classes begin (August 23).  If you are unable to arrive by that date, please contact Undergraduate Admissions to learn how to defer your admission to begin in a future semester. 

Graduate students, please let us know when you are able to secure a visa appointment.  ISFS is discussing this situation with the Graduate College and academic departments.  In some cases, it may be possible to accommodate a late arrival.  We can begin that conversation with you once we know your visa appointment date.  Alternately, you can speak with your department about the possibility of deferring to the spring semester.  If you have been awarded any financial support, you will need to ask if that will be retained if you defer to the spring semester. 

Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE) students should contact OPIE to ask about the possibility of late arrival.   

What should I do if I’m from a country with a COVID-19 related travel ban? 

At this time, the U.S. government has barred entry to any individual who has spent time in the following locations within the preceding 14 days:  Brazil, China, European Schengen Area, Iran, Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom.  We do not know when these bars will be lifted.  If the bars remain in place, the only way you will be allowed to enter is if you spend 14 days in a country that is not included on this list, and then travel directly to the U.S. from that location.  Students should also avoid flights with connections through the countries with a bar.  Please note that this list is subject to change at any time.   

Will I be required to quarantine upon reaching Ohio University? 

Ohio University is reviewing all federal and state public health and safety guidelines, including those on testing, tracing, and quarantine plans. We will provide more information as soon as details are available. 

Will I be able to take enough in-person classes to adhere to F or J visa requirements? 

Under normal circumstances, F and J visa regulations restrict enrollment in online classes.  Due to COVID-19 precautions, it is likely that more classes than usual will be offered online this fall.  The U.S. government has not yet issued guidance to schools and universities on the visa requirements and exceptions for the fall semester.  The government gave universities significant flexibility for students to maintain their status with online classes in the spring and summer semesters.  It is our hope that this flexibility will continue to be offered through the fall semester. We will update you as more information becomes available.   

Will I be able to find a job this fall? 

Visa regulations strictly prohibit most off-campus employment.  (There are a few exceptions tied to required internships that you will learn about at orientation.) This means that our students are often eager to find on-campus employment opportunities.  We do expect that on-campus jobs will be available this fall semester; however, there is no guarantee that every student who is interested in a job will be able to find one.  November 20, 2020, will be the last day on campus for fall semester, and the final portion of instruction, including exams, will take place online, This may impact the number of on-campus jobs available during the last few weeks of the semester.   

How will housing be handled this fall? 

Students who will live on-campus should refer questions to Housing and Residence Life.  For those who will live off-campus, we highly recommend that you refrain from signing a lease until you have your visa and know you will be able to enter the U.S.  Signing a lease obligates you to pay for rent, even if you do not live on the premises.  In the meantime, you can continue to research housing options, so that you can act quickly when you are ready to sign.