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COVID-19 FAQ for International Scholars

As Cornell finalizes guidance for the fall, we look forward to what we expect to be a fully in-person semester. Explore this page to find answers for international faculty and staff about employment and visa status, travel, and more.

Cornell is committed to the health and safety of our campus and surrounding communities. Visit Cornell’s COVID-19 Response for campuswide information. If you're a student, find answers to your questions on this FAQ.

Employment and Immigration

As a general rule, working remotely outside the United States is not permitted for J-1, H-1B, and O-1 faculty and staff. Cornell is a U.S.-based employer and has limited ability to sponsor work authorization in other countries. Find out about a few exceptions below. Please email us if you have questions about how to maintain your status while you are employed at Cornell.

 

I am a J-1 researcher. I am in a travel-restricted country, and 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, you 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 reentry is delayed for more than 30 days due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, email us us about 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, an 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 an 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 an LOA, the host unit must immediately reappoint the J-1 exchange visitor in Workday effective on the date of admission to the U.S. There may be tax or benefit implications to an 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 in a travel-restricted country, and 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 (Office of Global Learning, 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 an 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 and 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.

Travel Rules

I've heard there is a National Interest Exception (NIE) for travelers from many countries with COVID travel bans. Is this true?

On May 13, 2021, the U.S. State Department updated the National Interest Exceptions for travelers from countries that still have COVID-related travel bans: China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. The May announcement did not include India, which on April 30 had been separately added. It is believed that this separate announcement may cover travelers in India, but availability of NIEs from U.S. consulates in India is limited due to the rise in COVID cases.

According to the State Department’s website, students and scholars with valid F-1, J-1, and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program beginning August 1, 2021, or later “do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies.”

Students and scholars subject to these proclamations due to their presence in a restricted country may qualify for an NIE only if their academic program begins August 1 or later. 

Students seeking to apply for new F-1, J-1, or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate. According to the State Department, “Those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified ... will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.”

At this time, we recommend that students and exchange visitors carry a copy of the relevant announcement (updated June 1) with their other travel documents. Also see more information at the Center for Disease Control.

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. See a comprehensive list of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

On May 13, 2021, the U.S. State Department updated the National Interest Exceptions for travelers from countries that still have COVID-related travel bans: China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. The May announcement did not include India, which on April 30 had been separately added. It is believed that this separate announcement may cover travelers in India, but availability of NIEs from U.S. consulates in India is limited due to the rise in COVID cases. Learn about current exceptions (June 1).

Please see Cornell's COVID-19 Response page 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?

Please see Cornell's COVID-19 Response page for more information and policies regarding travel. If you are at Cornell Tech, see Cornell Tech's COVID-19 Updates.

How does the presidential proclamation suspending Chinese students' and scholars' entry to the United States affect me?

The May 29, 2020, proclamation only applies to certain graduate students and postgraduate researchers. Learn more about the proclamation.

Stimulus Funds and Scams

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.