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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.

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Fall 2021 Semester and Vaccine Mandate

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. Find out more below about international vaccines accepted for fall in-person attendance.

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

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

Will COVID-19 vaccinations from outside the United States be accepted for in-person attendance?

Cornell announced the decision on May 18 to accept all vaccines approved by these organizations: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Medical Association (EMA), and World Health Organization (WHO). View a list of vaccines and their timeline for approval; watch the list for updates. As of June, the vaccines approved are the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, and Sinovac vaccines.

The vaccination requirement goes into effect at the beginning of the fall term. Be sure to report your status as soon as you are vaccinated. Ithaca students, please upload your information in the Daily Check Portal. Cornell Tech students, upload your information using this form.

Note: The expanded vaccine acceptance begins with the fall term. For activities over the summer that require vaccination, only the New York State-approved vaccines will be accepted.

It is important to note that although Cornell is accepting vaccines approved by the FDA, EMA, and WHO, New York State only accepts FDA-approved vaccines. At this time, the list of vaccines recognized by New York State does not include the AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, or Sinovac vaccines. This means that activities overseen by the Department of Health—such as contact tracing in the event of a positive case—will treat anyone not fully vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine as nonvaccinated. During contact tracing, individuals exposed to COVID who are not vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine will be required to quarantine.

Students who arrive on campus without a vaccine approved by the FDA, EMA, or WHO will need to be vaccinated on-site as quickly as possible. Cornell is investigating ways to facilitate this process. You do not need to return to Ithaca early to get vaccinated. You may attend classes while waiting for the vaccine to take full effect, but you are expected to make every effort to become vaccinated as quickly as possible upon arrival.

Students returning to campus who are vaccinated with a vaccine not approved by the FDA are eligible to be revaccinated in Tompkins County with an FDA-approved vaccine. We encourage you to consider revaccination, as this will satisfy all New York State vaccine requirements. 

Currently, unvaccinated travelers arriving from international destinations are asked to consider non-mandated self-quarantine. You may "test out" after seven days or quarantine for a full 10 days. International students should come early enough to accommodate the non-mandated quarantine period, but no extra time is required for students who need to receive an approved vaccine. 

See the CDC's guidance for international travel during COVID-19. Ithaca students, please monitor Cornell’s COVID-19 website, and Cornell Tech students, please monitor the Cornell Tech COVID-19 website, for up-to-date information on vaccine, travel, testing, and quarantine policy.

What if I can’t get a vaccine before my arrival in the fall?

You will be expected to be vaccinated as soon after your arrival as possible with a vaccine recognized by New York State. Cornell is investigating ways to facilitate this process. Ithaca students, please monitor Cornell’s COVID-19 website, and Cornell Tech students, please monitor the Cornell Tech COVID-19 website, for up-to-date information on vaccine, travel, testing, and quarantine policy.

Can an international student be considered a New York State resident for purposes of vaccination?

Ithaca students, please see the Tompkins County eligibility guidelines. Cornell Tech students, please follow the NYC eligibility guidance.

How can I apply for a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine mandate?

As is the case with other required immunizations, two exemptions for COVID-19 vaccine may be pursued: a medical exemption or a religious exemption. Visit Cornell Health’s website for more information.

As an international student, will I be required to quarantine when I enter the United States?

Currently, unvaccinated travelers arriving from international destinations are asked to consider non-mandated self-quarantine. You may "test out" after seven days or quarantine for a full 10 days. International students should come early enough to accommodate the non-mandated quarantine period, but no extra time is required for students who need to receive an approved vaccine.

See the CDC's guidance for international travel during COVID-19. Ithaca students, please monitor Cornell’s COVID-19 website, and Cornell Tech students, please monitor the Cornell Tech COVID-19 website, for up-to-date information on vaccine, travel, testing, and quarantine policy.

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. 

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 updates as they become available. Cornell Tech students, visit the Admitted Students page.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

Travel and Visa 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 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 over the summer. 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 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 was 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. 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 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.

Employment and Immigration

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.

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.