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International Students COVID-19 FAQ

Questions and answers on this page are broken into three categories:

  • All International Students
  • New International Students
  • Active International Students

Please review all the questions and answers below.

All International Students

Has the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued updated guidance for the Spring 2021 term?

No, they have not. Unless and until they do, the guidance for the Fall 2020 term prevails.

Where can I find Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)’s guidance and updated information?

The Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) rescinded a broadcast message issued on July 6, 2020 and the FAQ on July 7, 2020 and has since issued Clarifying Questions for Fall 2020 FAQ. In addition to this new FAQ, the FAQ for Stakeholders from March 2020 is still valid. NAFSA’s COVID-19 Critical Resources webpage is a great resource that serves as a central place for up to date COVID-19 impacts to Embassies, Travel & Re-entry Restrictions, Presidential Proclamations, and more.

Will international students be able to take online/virtual only classes for Spring 2021 term?

Not all F-1 and J-1 students will be able to take online/virtual only classes for the Spring 2021 term. Your ability to take only virtual/online classes currently depends on whether you are an initial or active student in SEVIS, and whether you were in active SEVIS status and enrolled on a full-time basis as of March 9, 2020. If you are a current/active student, further details on this can be found under the “Active International Student” section of this FAQ. If you are a new/initial student, further details on this can be found under the “New International Student" section of this FAQ.

Where can I get updated information on UMass Lowell’s Plan to Return to Campus?

Students should check the Spring 2021 Returning to Campus Plan to view current plans and protocols. All students are expected to review and acknowledge the Student Spring 2021 Guide. Although we are expecting campus to be open this spring, we will be offering modifications to our course schedule, with approximately 28% of our classes being offered fully face-to face, with the rest a combination of virtual and hybrid courses.

What is the difference between virtual, online, in-person and hybrid classes at UMass Lowell?

UMass Lowell defines them as follows:

  • On-campus: Course meets regularly on-campus
  • Hybrid: Course alternates between on-campus and online meetings (may be weekly or days during the week)
  • Virtual Classroom: Course meets online on scheduled days and times, same schedule each week in Blackboard
  • Fully Online: Course meets fully online throughout the semester without scheduled, synchronous class meetings in Blackboard
Where can I find information on ongoing travel recommendations, restrictions and protocols?

There are several travel restrictions that may impact your ability to travel throughout the globe, and well as to and within the United States and the state of Massachusetts. Please consider the following information:

  1. Effective Jan. 26, all air passengers will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to entry to the US. For further information and specific testing requirements, please review CDC’s press release, CDC Expands Negative COVID-19 Test Requirement to All Air Passengers entering the United States.
  2. All travelers, including residents, entering Massachusetts are required to complete the Massachusetts Travel Form, prior to arrival, and to quarantine for 10 days or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test that has been conducted no earlier than 72 hours prior to your arrival. Failure to comply results in a $500 per day fine. To complete the travel form and to read more about testing requirements, please refer to the Massachusetts COVID-19 Travel Order webpage.
  3. Be aware of travel restrictions in your local province/state, home country, and any country you plan on travelling to or through. Please always check  your U.S. Embassy’s website for up-to-date information. 
  4. There are five active Presidential Proclamations restricting entry to the US:
    1. China Travel Proclamation
    2. Iran Travel Proclamation
    3. European Schengen Area Proclamation*
    4. Ireland and UK Proclamation
    5. Brazil Proclamation
      A brief description, and hyperlinks to the official proclamations can be found on the NAFSA Critical Resources page. It is our understanding that students are exempt from this travel proclamation.
  5. There are certain restrictions on the Canada-US border and Mexico-U.S. border. Read more about them.
  6. Review CDC travel guidance, including:
    CDC international travel recommendations
    Travel recommendations by country
    Returning from International Travel
Are the U.S. Embassy/Consulates abroad processing routine visa services again?

ISSO is aware of a few embassies resuming some processing. To find information for the U.S. Embassy in your home country, please review the U.S. Embassy website.

To find information on Visa Appointment wait times or availability please check this State Department webpage.

New International Students

I am a new student for Spring 2021 and still need to apply for an F-1 visa. Will I be eligible to receive a visa?

New students in “Initial” SEVIS Status will likely not be eligible for a visa if their course load for Spring 2021 is fully online/virtual. Before attending your visa interview, please be sure to verify that you are enrolled full-time for the Spring 2021 term, and that at least one of your courses is in-person or hybrid in order to meet SEVP requirements. Students should request a letter from ISSO verifying that UMass Lowell is not a fully online program for the Spring 2021 if they have not yet received one.

I am a new/initial student and already have a valid F-1 visa. Can I travel to the U.S. to take online/virtual courses only for the Spring 2021 semester?

If you are an initial student currently outside of the U.S. and have a valid F-1 visa, please note that you will likely not be able to enter the U.S. until you can show that your Spring 2021 course load is not completely online/virtual. If your course load for Spring 2021 is completely online, please contact ISSO immediately.

I am an initial student. Can I take virtual/online classes ONLY for Spring 2021 semester?

Students who are currently outside of the U.S. who plan to travel to the U.S. will not be able to begin a program through virtual/online courses only for Spring 2021 semester.  

Students that are currently outside of the U.S. who wish to remain in their home country for Spring 2021 should inquire with their academic department on whether they may begin their academic program online or via the virtual format. ISSO may then update your Form I-20 to reflect a start term of Fall 2021 with the understanding that you will plan to physically arrive to campus for that term.

What if I am unable to receive a visa in time for Spring 2021?

Initial students who are not able to receive a visa in time for Spring 2021 can request an updated Form I-20 from ISSO to reflect a start term of Fall 2021 in hopes you can receive a visa and join us for the start of that term. You likely have the following enrollment options at UMass Lowell:

  • Request deferral of your acceptance to UMass Lowell for a Fall 2021 start of your program of study, OR  
  • Inquire with your academic department on whether you may begin your academic program through online or virtual* courses from overseas.   

In both cases, your SEVIS record and Form I-20 would be updated by the ISSO to reflect a start date of Fall 2021, and your SEVIS record would be activated upon your arrival to UMass Lowell in August/September 2021.  

*Please note that virtual classes have regularly scheduled meeting days and times, so please consider time zones before enrolling in virtual courses. 

Will I be able to enter the U.S. after Jan. 25, the Spring 2021 semester start, due to travel/visa issues?

All new/initial students wishing to enter the U.S. for Spring 2021 will need to have course enrollments that are not completely online/virtual. Before arriving to the U.S., you should enroll for Spring 2021 courses, and ensure that at least one course is in-person or hybrid.  

All students arriving after Jan. 25, 2021 must already be enrolled full-time in their degree program and must follow the protocols below:  

Arrival during the Add/Drop Period (Jan. 25-Feb. 5):  

  1. Must be enrolled full-time and travel with proof of registration 
  2. Must receive written approval from their academic advisor to arrive past the start of classes 

Arrival after the Add/Drop Period (Feb. 5-24): 

  1. Must have written approval from their academic department for beginning studies late
  2. If you cannot arrive to the U.S. before Feb. 25, 2021, ISSO would traditionally update your I-20 to reflect a Fall 2021 start, deferring your admission and issuing an I-20 to reflect the same. If there is updated guidance from SEVP relating to late arrivals, we will be sure to notify you. 
I am unable to arrive to the U.S. for Spring 2021 and I prefer to not take online courses from my home country this semester. What are my options?

If you are unable or would prefer to not begin your program through online courses from your home country, we recommend you contact the Graduate Admissions or Undergraduate Admissions office to see whether you are eligible to defer your admission to Fall 2021. Once your admission is updated to reflect Fall 2021, ISSO will update your Form I-20 to reflect a start term of Fall 2021 (Sept. 1,2021). 

Active International Students

What does SEVP Guidance say about Spring 2021 enrollment requirements for students currently in the United States?

On July 24, SEVP posted their Clarifying FAQ for Fall 2020 (guidance that still prevails for the Spring 2021 term), outlining the following:

  • Students actively enrolled in the U.S. on March 9, 2020 and who have otherwise maintained their lawful status, are permitted to remain in the U.S. while taking their Fall 2020 course load fully online/virtual.*
  • Students actively enrolled in the U.S. on March 9, 2020, and who have otherwise maintained their lawful status and who have received a change of education level Form I-20, or who have transferred or will transfer to UMass Lowell for the Spring 2021 semester, are eligible to remain in the U.S. while taking a course load that is fully online/virtual for the fall semester.

* Some exceptions may apply, particularly involving "Change of Status" students.

In general, the key factor to determine whether or not you are eligible to take a fully online course of study, or if you are required to take at least one in-person course, is whether or not you were in the U.S. in “active” F-1/J-1 status, were enrolled on a full-time basis as of March 9, 2020 and have since been maintaining lawful status. If this does not apply to you, you will likely need a course load that is not completely online/virtual for Spring 2021.

Can I return to or remain in my home country while taking classes for the Spring 2021 semester?

Yes, you can return to or remain in your home country, taking online/virtual courses for the Spring 2021 semester. ISSO will keep your SEVIS record in Active status, so long as you had met the eligibility criteria allowing participation in a fully remote (online) course load. However, we will notify you, should any further guidance be issued on this item.

Can I take a leave of absence for the Spring 2021 semester, returning for the Fall 2021 semester?

Yes, although your failure to enroll in any courses for the Spring 2021 semester will require you to depart the U.S. prior to the start of the Spring 2021 semester (if in the U.S. currently). Thereafter, the ISSO would terminate your F-1/J-1 student status and SEVIS record. It may be possible for the ISSO to request reactivation of your SEVIS record should you wish to return for the Fall 2021 semester, though your options may be limited depending on how long your absence from the U.S. lasts. Please consult with an ISSO official before making plans to take a leave of absence for the fall semester.

I am outside of the U.S. and plan to travel to Massachusetts, what should I know before traveling?

Please refer this question.

Continuing/Active students will need to show the following documentation at the Port of Entry: 
  1. Valid Form I-20 with travel signature provided in the last year 
  2. Unexpired foreign passport, expiration date must be at least 6 months in the future 
  3. Valid F-1 visa 
  4. You may also wish to have a transcript reflecting enrollment.
  5. You may need to show a letter from ISSO attesting that UMass Lowell is not fully online for Spring 2021. 

What does the SEVP guidance allow for Change of Level Students (Bachelor's to Master's, Master's to Ph.D., etc.)?

If you had previously completed a program of study and are now beginning a new program of study with the same SEVIS ID in the Spring 2021 semester, please note:

  • Change of Level Students within the U.S. can be treated as “active” continuing students, permitted to take a fully online course load, so long as they have been maintaining their lawful status in the US and/or were enrolled in “active” SEVIS status as of March 9, 2020.
  • Change of Level Students outside of the U.S. can be treated as a continuing student even from overseas, so long as they have been maintaining their lawful status in the US and/or were enrolled in “active” SEVIS status as of March 9, 2020. ISSO will SEVIS register the student, activating their SEVIS record despite the student being overseas. The student can therefore engage in a fully online course load from abroad and will return for the Fall 2021 semester already in “active” SEVIS status. No termination, deferral or data fix is necessary, as they will maintain their active SEVIS record.
What does the SEVP guidance say about students newly changing status to F-1?

If you had previously filed a petition to change your status to F-1, the petition was approved and - as of the Spring 2021 semester - you will now be in F-1 status, SEVP guidance would appear to indicate that you CANNOT participate in a fully-online course load. Although you may have been enrolled full-time during the Fall 2020 semester, albeit in another status, because you are now an "initial" F-1 record, SEVP guidance would appear to require at least some in-person component. Please consult your academic department to confirm your Spring 2021 registration is not entirely online.

If your change of status petition to F-1 is still pending and is not approved by the Add/Drop period, you may participate in fully virtual/online courses for Spring 2021. 

What does the SEVP guidance say about transfer-in students?

Initial transfer students for Spring 2021, who are currently in the US, and who were in active F-1 status on March 9, 2020 and have continued to maintain their status, can be considered a “continuing student”, may engage in virtual/online Spring 2021 enrollment. Upon checking in with ISSO during orientation, ISSO will SEVIS register initial transfer-in students and activate their status with UML. Once SEVIS registered, the student can theoretically come and go from US throughout the semester (as they are an “active” continuing student), but risks are present, particularly as it relates to travel restrictions and CBP questioning the coming and going from the US.

“New” transfer students – those that were not in the US in “active” SEVIS status and enrolled full-time as of March 9, 2020 - outside of the U.S. or already in the U.S. with the intent to start their academic program at UML during the Spring 2021 term cannotenroll in a course of study that is completely online. Again, the key determinant as to whether a student can enroll in a fully online course of study is whether the student was in “active” SEVIS status and enrolled as of March 9, 2020 at UML or elsewhere; if this does not apply to you, a “new” UML transfer student, you must enroll in at least one in-person course during the Spring 2021 term. ISSO will SEVIS register student upon check in with ISSO during orientation, finalizing the transfer and “activating” student’s SEVIS record under UMass Lowell sponsorship. 

New transfer students outside of the US and enrolling remotely for the spring cannot have their SEVIS records activated by ISSO as they are outside of the US. ISSO will need to terminate initial “transfer-pending” records, deferring the program start to the Fall 2021 term with a SEVIS data fix prior to their eventual return for the Fall 2021 semester.

Theoretically, the data fix to “reactivate” the SEVIS record for the Fall 2021 term will not have any effect on previous time accrued as it relates to off-campus work eligibility, and the 5-month rule does not appear to apply to transfers.

New transfer students outside of the US and NOT enrolling for the spring are the same situation as above. Theoretically, even without Spring 2021 enrollment, due to COVID we would be able to defer the start of the transfer to Fall 2021 with a data fix, preventing any effect on time accrued for off-campus work benefits. As it is with the above, the 5-month rule also does not apply. Guidance appears to indicate that Spring 2021 enrollment, from abroad, may make the data fix process go smoother, but it is not clear that enrollment is absolutely necessary to process the data fix.