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COVID-19 FAQ for International Students

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 students about university plans, visa status, travel, and more.

We hope that embassies and consulates will open as soon as possible for visa appointments. We know the wait has been very stressful for many in our international community. While we don’t have specific news at this time, we understand that consulates plan to prioritize students when they are able to begin issuing visas. Please monitor the status of appointments in your home country if you expect to be impacted.

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 faculty or staff member, find answers to your questions on this FAQ.


fall campus photo, students with Ezra statue

Video: July 20 Town Hall

View the video of the international town hall to learn about the fall semester and return to campus. We received over 100 questions from participants during the event! This page includes responses to the top questions.


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Fall 2021 Semester

Cornell will require COVID-19 vaccination for students returning to the Ithaca and Cornell Tech campuses for the fall semester. Students who are not able to obtain vaccination prior to arrival for the fall semester will be expected to be vaccinated as soon after their arrival as possible.

The Vaccination at Cornell page is the main source of information on Cornell's vaccine policies, including the current list of accepted vaccines. Visit Cornell Health's COVID-19 International Student Vaccination FAQ for answers to your questions about COVID-19 vaccination.

How is Cornell planning to operate in the fall 2021 semester?

Read the plan laid out in President Pollack’s April 2 message.

Where can I get information about fall housing and move-in?

Watch Cornell Housing's move-in page for fall arrival instructions.

Where can I learn more about vaccination requirements and procedures?

The Vaccination at Cornell page is the main source of information on Cornell's vaccine policies, including the current list of accepted vaccines. Visit Cornell Health's COVID-19 International Student Vaccination FAQ for answers to your questions about COVID-19 vaccination.

What happens if I'm not able to meet my immunization requirements before arriving on campus?

Visit this Cornell Health webpage to find out what you need to know about immunization compliance.

Help! I'm having trouble signing up for a campus vaccination clinic. What do I do if the link won't work?

If you're not able to access the online registration link from your international location, you may attend a clinic without an appointment. To avoid penalties associated with noncompliance, update your vaccination status now in Cornell's Daily Check with the date you plan to attend a clinic. When you get to campus, please try again to schedule an appointment using the sign-up link. Find out more vaccination clinic dates and registration.

What visa-related steps do international students have to complete on arrival?

All F-1 and J-1 students must complete an immigration check-in.

Where can I learn about transportation options to get to Ithaca from nearby cities and airports?

Review our Travel to Campus page for weekly updated transportation information.

How can I find out about local banking availability?

Check out Your First Week for pointers on local banks and other important things to know and do when you arrive on campus.

Will there be a fall orientation for new/transfer students, as well as continuing students who were not in Ithaca in during the 2020–21 academic year?

Ithaca students, please check the Orientation Options page for registration information. Cornell Tech students, visit the Admitted Students page.

Are Prepare and grad/professional orientation mandatory for international students?

Neither orientation is mandatory, but past students have found them beneficial as a fun and fast way to learn about how Cornell works and connect with fellow international students. Find out more about your orientation options.

Are scholarships and financial aid available for international students?

Undergraduates: Learn about need-aware financial aid. Graduate students: Find out how to apply for grants and loans.

Will the costs of Prepare be covered by financial aid?

For international aid recipient students only: Your financial aid will cover the costs of Prepare, including both the registration fee and additional housing.

Where can I find the fall 2021 class roster, and how do I sign up for my classes?

Follow these links to find the course roster and information on enrollment.

I want to make sure I'm on your email list for international students. How can I check?

All international students automatically receive immigration updates from the Office of Global Learning, including a monthly newsletter. If you want to double-check, you can email us to confirm you are an international student according to Cornell's records. Non-international students (per Cornell's records) can sign up for our mailing lists here.

Can I verify that my transcript was received by Graduate Admissions?

Thank you for your patience while the transcript processing work is completed. While there is no way to check if your transcript arrived, if your university confirms that the transcript was sent, you should feel confident that Cornell will receive it. You will be notified when your transcript is entered in Cornell's student information system or if any of your documents are missing.

U.S. embassies and consulates in some countries are still closed, and travel bans are still in place. How will this affect my ability to study in person at Cornell this fall?

We hope that embassies and consulates will open as soon as possible for visa appointments, and we understand that they will prioritize students when they are able to begin issuing visas. Please monitor the status of appointments in your home country if you expect to be impacted.

Cornell will continue to monitor visa and travel issues that might affect returning international students and will make adjustments to address your needs as much as possible. While Cornell does not officially recommend this practice due to the risk of delays or denials, we understand that some students and scholars have been successful in applying for a visa in a third country. 

What do I do if my visa is not approved in time for me to make it to the campus by the enrollment date?

Contact your academic department or college about your delayed arrival, and ask about your options. Be sure to email us if your arrival will be delayed or deferred.

What are my options to defer my admission if I cannot obtain an F-1/J-1 visa to attend this fall?

If you are unable to obtain a visa or will arrive late, you should contact your department or the admissions office and request information about your options for attending in a later semester. Cornell Tech students, please email admissions@tech.cornell.edu.

How is Cornell advocating for international students during the pandemic?

Learn about some of the ways Global Cornell and the Office of Global Learning are working to support Cornell's international community and responding to COVID-related impacts on international students.

Is there any emergency benefit in case of a family emergency requiring a trip home or a medical or dental emergency in the U.S.?

The Office of Global Learning can often provide modest support to international students for eligible emergency expenses. Find out how to request support in the Financial Emergency section of Get Advice.

Will Study Away be available for fall 2021?

Students should plan for a return to in-person teaching and learning in fall 2021. Because Study Away depends on the availability of online Cornell courses, the planned return to in-person learning means Study Away will not be offered in fall 2021.

For international students unable to get to the Ithaca or Tech campus this fall, will Cornell require faculty to provide online access to courses?

We strongly hope that international students will be able to attend Cornell in-person this fall, but we recognize that this may not be possible for all students. We are watching the situation closely, and we appreciate how difficult it is. Faculty will not be asked to provide online access for their courses.

If on-campus attendance is not possible for you, we hope you will work with your advisor, department, or college to determine what flexibility might be possible at the beginning of the semester. Deferral or a leave of absence are also options. If you’re a new undergraduate, please contact the admissions office.

Am I eligible to enroll in fully online courses?

F-1 students are normally permitted to take no more than three credit hours per term of online study. For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, ICE permitted F-1 students who were physically present and enrolled  prior to March 9, 2020, to participate in a fully remote program of study. New students arriving in the U.S. after that date were not permitted a 100% online program.

We do not know when ICE will determine that the COVID-19 emergency provisions are no longer applicable, but the policy will be applied through the 2021–22 academic year.

When the current emergency provisions end, the policy will revert to 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.”

Employment and Immigration

Where can I find a job on campus?

Check out our webpage about student jobs on the Ithaca campus before you begin your search. Then start on this page to search campus employment opportunities.

Who can I speak with about career questions?

If you have general career questions or career questions related to being international, contact Cornell Career Services. You can also use their online booking system to make an appointment. Also be sure to visit our Employment and Taxes webpages.

Where can I find help with my I-9 employment authorization form?

If you're a new student employee, you need to complete an I-9! Find out how to get started.

How can I get a Social Security number ?

A Social Security number (SSN) is used by employers and employees for tax-reporting purposes. You don’t need an SSN to open a bank account, rent an apartment, or get a credit card. Find out how to Apply for an SSN.

Does the spring 2021 semester count as one semester of in-residence for OPT/CPT?

Yes. If you are in F-1 status and you enrolled in Cornell or Cornell Tech classes, the spring 2021 semester counts as part of your two-semester eligibility requirement for OPT/CPT.

Am I eligible for OPT/CPT if I completed 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 OPT. However, newly admitted students who previously did another academic program in the United States and transferred their SEVIS record to Cornell are eligible to apply for OPT/CPT during the summer following their first academic year at Cornell, even if they completed their first semester at Cornell remotely from outside of the United States.

Newly admitted graduate students who were not previously enrolled in another academic program in the United States and who completed their first semester remotely outside of the United States are not eligible to apply for CPT during the summer following their first academic year.

If it is permissible to complete the internship or practicum at a later time in the academic program, then CPT is not possible for students who do the first semester of their program at Cornell outside of the United States.

Am I eligible for OPT/CPT if I enrolled in Study Away in 2020–21?

Based on F-1 regulations, a student must be physically present in the U.S. to apply for OPT/CPT. If you were a current student in 2020 and participated in Study Away or were otherwise enrolled in a full course of study from abroad, the time outside of the U.S. will be counted toward your two-semester OPT/CPT eligibility requirement. If you were a new student who has not yet had active F-1 status within the U.S., time spent studying abroad during the 2020–21 academic year will not count towards CPT/OPT eligibility.

I graduated in May 2021. Can I apply for OPT from outside of the United States?

Current F-1 regulations do not allow for OPT applications 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 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 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. Find more information.

I’m staying in the U.S. 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 and are otherwise maintaining the conditions of F-1 status. Don't hesitate to email us if you have questions about your situation.

I need to return to my permanent home residence. Am I authorized to work remotely for my campus employer?

F-1 and J-1 international students, including graduate assistants, who have left the United States are generally ineligible for remote work abroad. The university has developed a narrow framework of options for engaging qualified students who are legally stranded in their home countries during the semester.

If you are impacted by travel restrictions, government-mandated stay-at-home orders, or other government-imposed orders related to COVID-19, contact your appointing unit or assignment supervisor to discuss eligibility. Please note that some options will require prior approval by the department chair or dean. Cornell cannot approve additional exceptions for students who choose to remain abroad after travel restrictions are lifted.

Travel and Visa Status

My visa is expiring soon. Can I extend it from inside the U.S.?

A visa is only necessary for entry to the United States. Learn more About Your Visa. Once you're in the U.S., you may be able to extend your immigration status using Form I-20. A new visa stamp is only required if you are leaving and reentering after your initial visa expires.

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 updates about visa issuance.

Can Cornell assist in making a visa appointment or filling out my DS-160?

While we can’t assist in scheduling a visa appointment, you can find the most up-to-date wait times on the U.S. Department of State website. The DS-160 is a personal application, so we cannot assist in filling out the form. The website offers guidance on the DS-160 form.

I'm thinking about traveling before classes start. Will I be able to get back to Ithaca or Cornell Tech?

Unfortunately, we are not able to predict travel conditions in the coming months 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 your planned graduation, be aware that you will not be eligible for OPT status.

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

For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will allow electronic issuing and signing of I-20 forms, but 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 email us.

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 fall 2021 semester continues to be based on the March 2020 guidance, which temporarily relaxed the five-month rule during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are outside the U.S. and plan to return, you can find travel documents on the Travel Documents for Students page.

I took classes online from abroad last semester and plan to return to campus in fall 2021. Will International Services issue a new I-20, or can I return with the same I-20?

Under the terms of the March 2020 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.

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.

I'm an incoming transfer student and was not in the U.S. for the spring 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. Your I-20 and SEVIS record must be corrected before you can enter the United States. To request a correction of your SEVIS record, please email us and include a copy of your travel itinerary.

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

If you’re an undergraduate or professional student and you expect to arrive late, email us.

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 United States.

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. Email us if you have questions about your visa status.

Travel Rules

I am outside the U.S. and plan to conduct research for my degree. How do Cornell’s travel policies affect me?

The rules vary for undergraduates and graduate students. If you are currently outside the country or intend to leave the U.S. for Cornell-related travel, please consult pandemic travel policies to learn about steps for Cornell travelers and how to petition for travel approval when required.

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

On June 1, 2021, the U.S. State Department updated the National Interest Exceptions for travelers from countries that still have COVID-related travel bans. The following countries and regions are currently included: China, Brazil, India, Iran, Ireland, the Schengen area, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

According to the State Department’s website, students 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 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. Optional Practical Training (OPT) is considered an academic program.

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. Find additional 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 countries with greater coronavirus risk within the past 14 days. See a comprehensive list of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

On June 1, 2021, the U.S. State Department updated the National Interest Exceptions for travelers from countries that still have COVID-related travel bans. The following countries and regions are currently included: China, Brazil, India, Iran, Ireland, the Schengen area, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

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. Read our May 2020 message about the proclamation.

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.

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.

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 currently accessible in China and can be used to communicate directly with faculty.

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 outlines steps to protect yourself from these scams. Learn more about avoiding scams.