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Coronavirus Updates: Visit Cornell’s COVID-19 and Reactivation Planning for campus-wide information. Visit FAQ for Cornell's International Community for university coronavirus plans, academic resources, visa status, travel, and more.

FAQ for Cornell’s International Community

Answers for Cornell's international community about university plans, academic resources, visa status, travel, and more.


For Students

Travel and Visa Status

 

I'm thinking about traveling over the holidays. Will I be able to get back to Ithaca or Cornell Tech?

It is with real sadness that we advise against leaving the U.S. during winter break. International students, faculty, and staff are at risk of being unable to reenter the country due to visa delays, pandemic travel restrictions, or changes to immigration policy. (Note that if you intend to stay on the Cornell campus for the Fall Part 2 session or winter break, there are significant restrictions on travel. See the university’s COVID-19 page.)

Unfortunately, we are not able to predict travel conditions in January and February with certainty. Existing travel bans may be tightened and new ones may be put into place. We will monitor the situation and advise as possible. If you intend to leave campus, ensure that your immigration documents are in order. If you leave and are not able to return before graduating in May, be aware that you will not be eligible for OPT status.

I'm worried about obtaining a visa for the upcoming semester.

Please refer to your local embassy’s website through the U.S. Department of State for any updates about visa issuance.

Can I use an electronic version/scan of my I-20 at the border?

For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, the Department of State and CBP will allow electronic issuance and signing of I-20 forms. Please print your I-20 prior to boarding your flight. We will also send you your original. If you need clarification on when the COVID-19 emergency is considered over, please contact us.

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. Visit the move-in page 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.

If I get my visa after the start of the semester, can I come to campus—as late as the middle of the semester?

Undergraduate and professional students, please contact International Services. For those hoping to arrive after the semester begins, we have created a late arrival request form. You need to have a confirmed visa appointment in order to complete the form.

Note: Does not apply to Cornell Tech students.

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?

Guidance for the spring is based on the March 2020 guidance, which temporarily relaxes the five-month rule, during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are outside the U.S. and will return, you can find travel documents on the Travel Documents for Students page.

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've heard that there is an exception to the travel ban for students from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland. Is this true?

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.

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?

No. Immigration regulations do not allow tourist visa holders to participate in degree programs. Students who are issued a Cornell I-20 for an F-1 visa or DS-2019 for a J-1 visa must apply for the appropriate visa to study in the United States.

I am outside the U.S. conducting research for my degree. How do the current Cornell travel restrictions affect me?

Spring 2021 Semester and Study Away

I've heard that Cornell will be on a hybrid academic plan for the spring 2021 semester. Can you give me a letter confirming the decision?

President Pollack announced plans for Cornell’s spring 2021 semester on November 19, 2020. As with the fall 2020 term, courses will be offered in a variety of modalities, in-person, online, and hybrid. We have created a letter confirming our spring 2021 operational plan.

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.

New and continuing applications for spring 2021 Study Away are open until November 29 (midnight). Study Away is available only to international students who are unable to return to Ithaca. Read about Study Away students at Zhejiang University in the Chronicle.

Am I eligible to enroll in fully online courses?

Advice for the spring 2021 semester is based on ICE’s guidance from July 14, 2020.

If you’re a continuing F-1 student and you were enrolled in a course of study on March 9, 2020, you are protected by ICE guidance issued on March 20. These continuing students are permitted to enroll in a fully online course of study from inside the U.S. or from abroad. The guidance is different for new students, those who were not in active SEVIS status on March 9, 2020. New students may not enroll in a 100% online course of study and should enroll in at least one hybrid course. Note: ICE guidance issued on July 6 was rescinded on July 14 and is not in effect. 

Will there be a spring orientation for new/transfer students and international students who were not in Ithaca in the fall?

Yes, register now for New International Student Orientation! We encourage new and transferring international students to attend our virtual spring orientation on February 2, 2021. The session is open to both undergraduate and graduate/professional students.

The orientation will provide essential immigration and legal information, guidelines on health and safety, and an introduction to Office of Global Learning services and programs, as well as a chance to meet current international students and get their tips for academic success. For more details, see the Orientation Options page.

What if I start the semester under the hybrid model, but classes move online during the semester?

Students pursuing studies in the spring 2021 term will be able to continue study in the U.S. if Cornell 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 took classes online from abroad in the fall and plan to return to campus in spring 2021. Will International Services issue a new I-20, or can I return with the same I-20?

Under the terms of the March SEVP guidance, if you are a continuing student with an active SEVIS record, you may study remotely from abroad and we can keep your SEVIS record active. In this case, you can return to the U.S. with the same I-20.

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 you were in the U.S. on or before March 9, 2020, and have an active F-1 SEVIS record, you are permitted to enroll in a fully online schedule. If you are a new student (did not have an active SEVIS record on or before March 9, 2020), you will not be permitted to enroll in a fully online course of study and should take at least one course with an in-person component.

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?

If you are not taking classes abroad, but are instead engaged in another activity abroad which standard policy would have permitted, we will keep your SEVIS record active. Please note that ICE guidance on this may change. If we are permitted to keep SEVIS records active for continuing students abroad, we will do so.

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.

Transfer Students

I'm an incoming transfer student and was not in the U.S. for the fall semester. What will happen to my I-20 and SEVIS record?

We will need to request a correction of your I-20 and SEVIS record from the government. Your I-20 and SEVIS record must be corrected before you can enter the U.S. To request a correction of your SEVIS record, please email our office and include a copy of your travel itinerary.

Academic Resources

Can I borrow books from the library?

Online resources and virtual research help are always available, but there are some limits on browsing in the stacks and use of study spaces. Read about enhanced online resources and see what is currently available at the library.

Can Cornell provide a reliable VPN to address Chinese students’ internet issues?

Cornell does not provide VPNs to students off campus. Based on student experience, you will have the best success connecting from China if you can connect via cellular service. Verizon and AT&T are widely available, and students report that local carriers and wi-fi in China also allow access to Canvas and Zoom. Faculty have been made aware that Canvas is accessible in China, but Google is not, meaning that students may not be able to access their Cmail accounts. Cornell has recommended that faculty communicate with students by sending announcements in Canvas or using the Canvas inbox to mail students directly from Canvas. Zoom is also currently accessible in China and can be used to communicate directly with faculty if needed.

Employment and Immigration

Does Cornell’s spring 2021 semester 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 spring 2021 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? Will I be eligible for OPT/CPT if I Study Away?

Based on F-1 regulations, a student must be physically present in the U.S. to apply for OPT/CPT. If you are a current student and participate in Study Away or are otherwise enrolled in a full course of student from abroad, the time outside of the U.S. will be counted toward the two-semester OPT/CPT eligibility requirement. If you are a new student, who has not yet had active F-1 status within the U.S. time spent studying abroad will not count towards CPT/OPT eligibility.

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.

Newly admitted graduate students who were not previously enrolled in another academic program in the United States, and who complete their first semester remotely outside of the United States will not be eligible to apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) during the summer following their first academic year.
If it is permissible for students to complete their internship or practicum at a later time in their academic program, then CPT would not be possible for students who do the first semester of their program at Cornell outside of the United States.

I am graduating in December 2020. Can I apply for OPT from outside of the United States?

Current regulations affecting F-1 students do not allow for OPT applications from outside of the U.S. The Office of Global Learning will provide an update if the Department of Homeland Security introduces any flexibility in these regulations.

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?

Students currently participating in OPT and STEM OPT may work remotely if their employer has an office outside of the U.S. or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means. Students participating in OPT do not need to update the SEVP portal, and STEM OPT recipients do not need to submit an updated Form I-983 to report remote work. However, requirements to submit an updated Form I-983 for other changes (pay, duties, supervisor, etc.) remain in effect.

I can only work 20 hours per week on OPT because of the pandemic. Will this count as unemployment?

During the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT. If you need clarification on when the COVID-19 emergency is considered over, please email us.

Can I use CPT while abroad?

Students can engage in CPT from abroad if the employer has an office outside the U.S. or if the employer can assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives electronically.

How can I apply for a social security number if the Social Security Administration is closed?

You do not need an SSN in order to start working, but you can apply for one once the SSA resumes full public services. Please contact us to see if you need to change your CPT dates.

Can I apply for OPT even though Cornell has transitioned to online instruction?

Yes, as long as you remain in the United States and maintain F-1 status by continuing your full course of study with online instruction. Read more about F-1 OPT. We do not recommend that you leave the United States until you have received an official receipt notice from USCIS (information about OPT and travel).

Has COVID affected processing times for OPT applications?

Yes, based on our experiences from the fall, students are experiencing a longer wait time than normal. Please plan accordingly and apply as early as possible. Read more about F-1 OPT here

Will I be able to start off-campus employment earlier than listed on my OPT card, given the circumstances?

No. You must wait until the start date on your OPT card to perform any paid employment.

I am an F-1 or J-1 student. I'm staying in the US. Am I authorized to work remotely for my campus employer?

As an F-1 or J-1 student, off-campus employment is restricted by U.S. law, but may be authorized under certain conditions. If you are maintaining your visa status, and you will be paid by Cornell as usual, you may work remotely so long as you remain in the United States. No special permission is needed, but don't hesitate to email us if you have questions about your situation.

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 for my campus employer?

International students, including graduate assistants, who have left the United States are generally ineligible for remote work abroad. There is a narrow exception for students who left the U.S. and are unable to return due to government-mandated travel restrictions. The exception criteria are outlined here.  Cornell cannot approve additional exceptions for students who choose to remain abroad after travel restrictions are lifted.

Employment and Finances

Is there a possibility of extra funding to purchase books?

Please check with your college's student services office to find out if you are eligible for support. 

For Everyone

Get Information

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?

Consult Cornell’s Coronavirus Resources and Updates and FAQ pages. A COVID-19 Study Abroad FAQ is also available. For information on the Cornell Tech campus, please visit Cornell Tech's COVID-19 Updates.

Where do I find answers to questions about on-campus housing and meals, campus safety, Cornell Health, and general campus operations?

New and Proposed Immigration Rules

How will the proposed regulation to eliminate duration of status (D/S) impact me?

At this time, it is too early to know. It's important to understand that the proposal to change duration of status is a proposed rule. Proposed rules go through a notice and comment period, then the government reviews the comments and determines the details of the final regulation. As of October 15, DHS had received more than 21,000 comments. Cornell University is submitting a comment letter, and this will be made available when complete.

Where can I get more information about the proposed regulation to eliminate D/S for F, J, and I nonimmigrants?

More information on this proposed rule can be found on the President's Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration fact sheet

If the D/S proposed rule becomes a final rule, what might change?

We don't know yet what the collective impact of the public comments will be, so it is too soon to say which provisions may apply in the final rule. Here's a brief summary of the most significant proposals:

  • Establishing a fixed period of admission for F and J status (4 or 2 years) and requiring USCIS application for an extension of stay for those continuing in their programs.
  • Reducing the F-1 grace period from 60 to 30 days.
  • Retaining the F-1 OPT cap-gap and automatically extending cap-gap work authorization through April 1 of the following year.
  • Limiting to three the number of degree programs an F-1 student can take at the same degree level.
  • Limiting to a single time a student's ability to change from one education program to a lower educational level.
  • Requiring that extensions of status only be permitted for 1) compelling academic reasons, 2) a documented illness or medical condition, or 3) exceptional circumstances beyond the control of the F-1 or J-1 student.
  • Allowing OPT applications to be filed up to 120 days before graduation (instead of 90) and eliminating the requirement for OPT applications to be submitted to USCIS within 30 days of the DSO recommendation for OPT.

What does the D/S proposed rule say about the status of F and J nonimmigrants who are currently in the United States?

The proposed rule lays out a transition plan for those already pursuing degrees. The transition provisions allow those already in the U.S. and pursuing their programs to complete them, in most cases, under the preexisting regulatory provisions. Remember, however, that these are just proposals—none of these provisions are in effect at the present time.

  • Those in the United States in D/S on the effective date of the final rule would be permitted to remain through the program end date of their I-20 or DS-2019 plus the 60-day grace period, but for no more than four years from the final rule effective date. After the end date of their I-20 or DS-2019, students would need to apply for an extension.
  • An F-1 or J-1 nonimmigrant who departs the United States and seeks admission after the final rule's effective date becomes subject to the fixed date, as does any new F-1 or J-1 nonimmigrant.
  • F-1 applicants for OPT or STEM OPT with I-765 applications pending with USCIS on the final rule's effective date could remain in the U.S. while the application is pending and would not have to file an I-539 or refile the I-765.
  • If USCIS approves the OPT: The student could remain in F status until the expiration date of the OPT EAD plus 60 days.
  • If USCIS denies the OPT and the student’s program end date has not yet passed: The student could remain in the United States until the program end date listed on their I-20 plus 60 days. If the program end date and the 60-day grace period has passed by the time USCIS denies the I-765, the student must immediately depart the United States with no grace period.

Does the new rule about H-1B employment mean that companies will no longer sponsor international students?

On December 1, 2020, the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, set aside the DHS rule to revise the specialty occupation definitions and employer-employee definitions, set to take effect on December 8. In rejecting the narrowing of the "specialty occupation" definition, the decision reduces the probability of increased USCIS requests for evidence to show that positions meet the specialty occupation standard.

Does the new rule about H-1B wages mean that international students will be paid more than their domestic peers for the same jobs?

On December 1, 2020, the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, set aside the DOL wage rule that went into effect on October 8. This judgment allows International Services to utilize DOL wage data in place before October 8, 2020, for our H-1B, E-3, and PERM (aka EB-2) petitions.

Travel Rules

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?

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.

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?

Businesses throughout our region are now open, although some indoor activities are closed or limited. 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 spring?

Many childcare services are temporarily closed. Use the resources provided by the Cornell Students with Families page to learn about your options during regular operations.

How can I stay safe on campus?

Learn more about campus safety and operations.

Stimulus Funds and Scams

Are nonresident aliens eligible for the $1,200 stimulus check from the U.S. government?

Please read this post on the subject from our tax return provider Sprintax.

I received a stimulus check, but I don't think I should have. What do I do?

Follow these instructions from the IRS if you need to return a payment that you're not entitled to receive.

How can I avoid coronavirus-related scams?

Scammers are taking advantage of fears surrounding coronavirus. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) outlines steps to protect yourself from these 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.

I am an H-1B or O-1 temporary worker. I am currently in a travel-restricted country, and now I can’t return to the United States. What does this mean for me?

Under limited circumstances and with prior approvals from the appropriate offices and individuals (International Services, HR, Export Controls, Divisional representatives, etc.), it may be possible to go on a leave of absence (LOA) or continue working from abroad. Please note that the continuation of benefits during a LOA can vary by employment type and eligibility. 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 H-1B or O-1 temporary workers?

International Services must review and approve all leave of absence requests for H-1B and O-1 temporary workers in advance to ensure compliance with immigration regulations.

I am a faculty or staff member in J-1, H-1B, or O-1 status. I am currently in the United States. Since classes are online, am I authorized to work remotely from abroad?

Working remotely outside the United States is not permitted. Cornell is a U.S.-based employer and unable to sponsor work authorization in other countries. Please reach out to your supervisor with any questions related to your work activities and your current appointment.