FAQ for Cornell’s International Community
Answers for Cornell's international community about university coronavirus plans, academic resources, visa status, travel, and more.
International Graduate and Professional Student Town Hall
On July 17, Global Learning immigration advisors and the Cornell Graduate School shared information on recent changes to immigration guidelines that might affect international graduate and professional students during the fall 2020 semester. Watch the full video.
Fall 2020 Hybrid Semester and Study Away
I've heard that Cornell will be on a hybrid academic plan for the fall 2020 semester. Can you give me a letter confirming this decision?
We recommend that students download and carry a copy of this letter confirming Cornell's hybrid academic program when entering the United States.
I heard that the July 6 ICE guidance was rescinded on July 14. What does this mean?
What if I start the fall 2020 semester under the hybrid model, but classes move online during the semester?
According to the July 24 ICE guidance, students pursuing studies in the fall 2020 school term will be able to continue study in the U.S. if their university shifts to online instruction due to the pandemic. If you choose to go home mid-semester, maintaining full enrollment in your online classes will maintain your SEVIS record.
I am a new international student. Will I be able to begin my studies in fall 2020 as planned?
According to July 24 ICE guidance, if you have an initial SEVIS I-20, you may enter the United States if your coursework is not 100% online. We recommend that international students with I-20s marked “initial attendance” enroll in at least one hybrid class that has a significant in-person component. Consistent with existing policies, new international students outside of the United States who wish to take classes 100% online are not eligible for visas. If you defer your in-person program until spring 2021, please coordinate with your admissions office to obtain a new I-20 with a spring start-date.
I am a new international student. What are my options to defer admission?
Some Cornell degree programs, including those supporting almost all new first-year undergraduates and new students in PhD programs, have continued to routinely consider and grant the opportunity to defer admission, as well as to renew the funding commitment for entry at a later term. Others, including professional degree programs, can sometimes allow students to defer, but future funding options may vary. Some Cornell programs are unable to offer deferral opportunities but will be eager to support students in renewing their applications for admission and applications for funding to start in a later semester.
Deadlines for deferral requests for the upcoming semester have passed for most students, but new international students who remain unable to secure either a visa or any reliable plan to access online coursework should contact their college or school admission office for information and guidance.
I am a new international student. Does Cornell need to reissue my I-20 with an annotation to indicate that I will not have a schedule that is 100% online?
I’m a transfer student. If I transfer my SEVIS record to Cornell for fall 2020, will I be considered a continuing or new student?
If you’re already in the United States, or if you enter the United States and check in with International Services, you are considered a continuing student in SEVIS. If you’re outside of the United States for the fall 2020 semester, your SEVIS record will remain in initial status, and you are considered a new student in SEVIS. There may be an impact to your SEVIS record if you are unable to check in. Contact us if you are transferring, and you are not in the U.S.
I am changing into a higher-level degree program this fall. Will I be considered a continuing or new student?
What are the options for continuing students who have left the United States and can’t get back into the country? Can I Study Away?
Where can I get answers to my questions about Study Away?
The goal of Study Away is to provide international students with a local Cornell community, as well as access to educational facilities, services, and collaborations. Answers to your questions can be found on the Study Away FAQ page.
If I take classes online from abroad in the fall and return to campus in spring 2021, will International Services issue a new I-20, or can I return with the same I-20?
I’m a continuing F-1 student currently in the U.S. Can I take a fully online course load in fall 2020?
Yes, if you’re a continuing international student with an active SEVIS record, you may take a fully online course load from the United States. The temporary exemptions issued in March due to COVID-19 were extended in July 15 ICE guidance.
I’m in the U.S. now, but I have health concerns that will keep me from attending classes in person. Can I enroll in a fully online course schedule?
If I’m pursuing an activity that would normally occur abroad (registered in-absentia, PhD field research, etc.), can you keep my SEVIS record active?
What immigration laws govern online and in-person learning?
The governing regulation for online study is 8 CFR 214.2 (f)(G), which states: “For F-1 students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter may be counted toward the full course of study requirement if the class is taken online or through distance education and does not require the student's physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class.”
The July 24 ICE guidance exempts new and continuing international students from the regulation, meaning that they can take more than one class or three credits of online or remote instruction in fall 2020. For continuing students, this may include a hybrid of online and in-person classes or a fully online course load. For new students, this must include at least one hybrid class with a significant in-person component. New international students may not enter the United States to take fully online courses in fall 2020.
Travel and Visa Status
As an international student, will I be required to quarantine when I enter the United States?
Cornell continues to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and will follow guidance on travel advisories, quarantine, and other requirements from global, national, and local health and government officials. Read Cornell Health's quarantine information. For information on move-in procedures for on- and off-campus housing, quarantine procedures after arriving in another state, and checking in for COVID-19 testing, see the information here
The ICE guidance from July 24 states that international students enrolled in a course of study in the United States on March 9, 2020, who subsequently left the United States will "likely" remain eligible for a visa, since the March 2020 guidance permitted a full online course of study from inside the U.S. or from abroad. Does this mean I will get a visa?
Are international students allowed to reenter the U.S. for the fall 2020 semester as long as their visas and I-20 have not expired and their country is not among those listed as high-risk?
If I get my visa after the start of the semester, can I come to campus—as late as the middle of the semester?
New international students who plan to come to campus may not enroll in a 100% online course schedule. You will need to obtain an F-1 visa and arrive in Ithaca no later than October 5, 2020, to begin a quarantine period and/or testing before joining classes. If you plan to arrive in the U.S. after the start of the fall semester (September 2), please check with your academic department or college advising office to confirm that you can participate in at least one hybrid class with an in-person component before finalizing your travel arrangements.
Students who are unable to obtain an F-1 visa and arrive before October 5 will typically need to complete the fall semester remotely. We will work with you to update the program start date on your I-20 form for a spring semester arrival in January. Graduate students please contact your graduate field or program to confirm your fall enrollment plans. Undergraduate and professional students please contact International Services.For those hoping to arrive for the fall semester after October 5, we are establishing a late arrival request form and will make that information available soon. You will have to have a confirmed visa appointment in order to complete the form.
Note: Does not apply to Cornell Tech students; Cornell Law students must arrive by October 2.
I'm worried about obtaining a visa for the fall semester.
Please refer to your local embassy’s website through the U.S. Department of State for any updates about visa issuance.
I’m an incoming student. Can I register as a new student at Cornell even if I can’t be in the country due to visa delays or travel problems?
Incoming students have the option to study remotely. However, if we have issued your I-20 for the fall semester, we will need to update your program start date to reflect your new anticipated arrival date. You must coordinate this date with your academic department (or Cornell Tech, if applicable).
If I'm not able to return to campus for a residential fall term, will I be guaranteed a space in the spring?
I've heard that there is an exception to the travel ban for students from the Schengen Area, the U.K. and Ireland. Is this true?
I've heard that if I'm outside the U.S. for more than five months, I need to apply for a new I-20 and F-1 visa stamp. Is this true?
Can I use an electronic version/scan of my I-20 at the border?
I am reaching the end of my five-year F-1 visa. What do you recommend for students like me who will need to reapply to enter if we leave, especially while the embassies are closed?
Please avoid any unnecessary travel. We cannot predict when embassies or consulates will reopen, and delays may impact your ability to return to the U.S.
I'm planning to come to the U.S. on a tourist visa, instead of an F or J visa. Can I study on a tourist visa?
I am outside the U.S. conducting research for my degree. How do the current Cornell travel restrictions affect me?
I'm a graduate student. Do I need to seek written approval from my special committee or the Graduate School for travel to my research site in fall?
Can I borrow books from the library?
Online resources and virtual research help are always available, but physical books currently are not. Read about enhanced online resources for fall 2020. Make sure you check the library’s service updates frequently as the situation is fluid.
Can Cornell provide a reliable VPN to address Chinese students’ internet issues?
Employment and Immigration
Does Cornell’s fall 2020 hybrid model count as one semester of in-residence for OPT/CPT?
Yes, if you are in F-1 status and you enroll in Cornell (or Cornell Tech) classes, the fall 2020 hybrid semester will count as part of your two-semester eligibility requirement for OPT/CPT.
How will my OPT/CPT status be affected if I am not able to study in Ithaca this fall? Will I be eligible for OPT/CPT if I Study Away?
I am doing full-time CPT over the fall semester. Am I maintaining my status?
Will I be eligible for off-campus work authorization (OPT/CPT) if I complete the first semester of my program remotely from outside of the United States?
Newly admitted students who were not previously enrolled in another academic program in the United States and do their first semester remotely outside of the United States must complete two consecutive semesters in F-1 status in the United States to be eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). Newly admitted students who previously did another academic program in the United States and transferred their SEVIS record to Cornell will be eligible to apply for either CPT or OPT during the summer following their first academic year at Cornell even if they do the first semester at Cornell remotely outside of the United States.
I am graduating in August/December 2020. Can I apply for OPT from outside of the United States?
I’m in OPT/STEM OPT. When permitted by my employer, can I start to work remotely? If so, do I need to submit an updated Form I-983 or update the SEVP portal?
I can only work 20 hours per week on OPT because of the pandemic. Will this count as unemployment?
Can I use CPT while abroad?
How can I apply for a social security number if the Social Security Administration is closed?
Can I apply for OPT even though Cornell has transitioned to online instruction?
Has COVID affected processing times for OPT applications?
Do I still need to apply for OPT if I have been drawn for an H-1B?
Will I be able to start off-campus employment earlier than listed on my OPT card, given the circumstances?
I've applied for OPT, but now my department says my project may take more time. Can I extend my start date for OPT?
I am an F-1 or J-1 student. I'm staying in Ithaca. Am I authorized to work remotely for my campus employer?
I am an F-1 or J-1 student. I need to leave campus and return to my permanent home residence. Am I authorized to work remotely?
Employment and Finances
Will the university charge the same tuition for fall 2020?
Cornell tuition will not change, since tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year were set prior to the COVID crisis. Visit the Office of the Bursar page for more information about Cornell tuition rates and resources.
Is there a possibility of extra funding to purchase books?
I'm currently outside the United States and unable to return because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. Can I still receive the stipend for my assistantship?
The university has developed a framework for allowing qualified continuing students to proceed with anticipated summer and/or fall assistantship appointments if they are temporarily stranded outside the U.S. due to government-imposed travel restrictions or would experience a significant hardship by returning to the U.S. at the start of the fall term to begin their planned assistantship. This policy only applies to the fall 2020 semester. The summary of the updated exception policy is posted online, including updated eligibility criteria.
Are fall 2020 RA, TA, and lecturer opportunities subject to the hiring freeze?
Each department will determine if and how to maintain research and teaching assistantships and lecturer positions. In general, these positions are critical to the university’s mission and are likely to continue.
Does the extended deadline of July 15 tax filing apply to international students?
Yes, it does. Read our U.S. Income Tax Basics to learn more.
Do I have to file taxes online and also mail them with W-2 forms attached?
File via Sprintax and print your returns. Mail the returns through USPS.
If I have to file taxes for two different states (for example, New York and California), do I file separately for each state?
Sprintax will create multiple returns for each state that you have to file.
I heard that your campus office is closed! How can I get advice?
The International Services team is ready to work with you during our regular hours. Our advising staff is working remotely to support Cornell's international community and campus partners. Reach us by email or phone. Read Get Advice for more information about hours and services. Cornell Tech students should continue to work with Cornell Tech Student Services during office hours or by email.
Where can I find the most up-to-date information on Cornell policies related to the coronavirus?
Where do I find answers to questions about on-campus housing and meals, campus safety, Cornell Health, and general campus operations?
How does the presidential proclamation suspending Chinese students' and scholars' entry to the United States affect me?
The May 29 proclamation only applies to certain graduate students and postgraduate researchers. Learn more about the proclamation.
I heard there is a presidential proclamation that seeks to “temporarily suspend immigration into the United States.” Does this affect me?
The April 22 presidential proclamation (extended through December 21, 2020) only applies to those applying for U.S. permanent residence from a location abroad. Cornell faculty and academic staff filing for permanent residence typically file these applications from within the United States and are not impacted. This proclamation does not apply to F-1, J-1, H-1B, TN, or other nonimmigrant visa holders.
Is there a travel ban in effect for me?
There have been several Presidential proclamations limiting travel to the U.S. for those who have been in one of the following countries within the past 14 days. Currently, there are travel bans in place for China, Iran, Brazil, the European Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City); the United Kingdom and Ireland. For exceptions to the policy, please check the relevant proclamation.
On July 16, the U.S. State Department announced a National Interest Exception for Certain travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom and Ireland. "Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas do not need to seek a national interest exception to travel. Students from those areas who are traveling on a J-1 may contact the nearest embassy or consulate to initiate an exception request." At this time, we recommend that students and exchange visitors carry a copy of the July 16 State Department announcement with their other travel documents.
On June 22, 2020, a new proclamation restricted the availability of H-1B (and H-4) visa stamps for anyone outside the U.S. who did not already possess a valid H1B visa stamp as of June 24. This suspension is in effect until December 31, 2020. It does not impact those with valid H1B visas stamps prior to June 24. It does not impact H-1B's within the U.S. For example, changes of status to H-1B are still possible, as are extensions of existing H1B status (for those eligible).
All Cornell-related travel is currently restricted to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Please see Cornell's coronavirus FAQ for more information and policies regarding travel. If you are at Cornell Tech, see Cornell Tech's COVID-19 Updates.
What about travel within the United States?
Health and Wellness
Is seeking treatment for COVID-19 a violation of the public charge rule?
Treatment or preventive services related to COVID-19 concerns will not negatively affect any foreign national as part of a future public charge analysis. Learn more about the public charge rule and read more FAQS on our public charge page. For information on COVID-19 in the state of New York, visit the NYS Department of Health website.
How can I learn more about immunization options at Cornell Health?
Contact Cornell Health to confirm the current availability of services.
I want to to get out of the house and stay active. What is there to do around Ithaca?
As of July 1 the Finger Lakes Region is partially reopening though many indoor activities are closed. You can track the industries that are reopening by phase. The Ithaca area offers many opportunities to get outside and enjoy nature. Explore the natural trails around Ithaca.
Is childcare available this fall?
How can I stay safe on campus?
Stimulus Funds and Scams
Are nonresident aliens eligible for the $1,200 stimulus check from the U.S. government?
If you are a nonresident alien in 2020, you are not eligible for the stimulus payment. Residents for U.S. tax purposes are eligible for the payment only if they qualify as resident aliens in 2020 and can't be claimed as another taxpayer's dependent. Tax residents must have a valid social security number. If you received a payment but don't qualify as a resident alien for 2020 tax purposes, you must return the payment. See the next question to find out how.
I received a stimulus check, but I don't think I should have. What do I do?
How can I avoid coronavirus-related scams?
For Faculty and Staff
I am a J-1 professor or researcher. I am currently in a travel-restricted country, and now I can’t return to the United States. What does this mean for me?
As a J-1 professor or research scholar with a valid DS-2019, we are permitted to keep your J-1 program active in SEVIS, if you will be continuing your exchange program activity with your Ithaca-based department or faculty while abroad. If your re-entry is delayed for more than 30 days due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, please contact International Services for your immigration status. Please reach out to your supervisor with any questions related to your work activities and your current appointment.
How does leave of absence work for J-1 scholars?
A leave of absence (LOA) is not permitted for J-1 exchange visitors who remain in the U.S. If you are abroad, a LOA is possible, but not recommended. The Department of State considers a J-1 exchange visitor in “active” status to be indicative of uninterrupted program participation.
If the J-1 exchange visitor takes a LOA, International Services will seek verification from the host department, that program participation is expected to remain uninterrupted while the J-1 is abroad. On return to the U.S., if the J-1 exchange visitor was on a LOA, the host unit must immediately reappoint the J-1 exchange visitor in Workday effective the date of their admission to the U.S. There may be tax or benefit implications to a LOA and you are encouraged to discuss this with your supervisor or local HR representative.