Questions and answers on this page are broken into three categories:
Please review all the questions and answers below.
The Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) rescinded a broadcast message issued on July 6, 2020 and the FAQ on July 7, 2020 and has since issued Clarifying Questions for Fall 2020 FAQ.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 central place that points to COVID-19 impacts to Embassies, Travel & Re-entry Restrictions, Presidential Proclamations, and more.
Not all F-1 and J-1 students will be able to take online/virtual only classes for Fall 2020. Your ability to take virtual/online only classes currently depends on whether you are an initial or active student in SEVIS. 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.
UMass Lowell defines them as follows:
There are several travel restrictions that may impact your ability to travel throughout the globe, and well as to the United States and Massachusetts. Please consider the following information:
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 students in “Initial” SEVIS Status will likely not be eligible for a visa if their course load for Fall 2020 is fully online/virtual. Before attending your visa interview, please be sure to verify that you are enrolled full-time for Fall 2020 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 Fall 2020.
Initial students who are not able to receive a visa in time for Fall 2020, can request an updated Form I-20 from ISSO to reflect a start term of Spring 2021. You likely have the following enrollment options at UMass Lowell:
In both cases, your SEVIS record and Form I-20 would be updated by the ISSO to reflect a start date of Spring 2021, and your SEVIS record would be activated upon your arrival to UMass Lowell in January 2021.
Before Sept. 1, ISSO will ask that you confirm your plan for Fall 2020 via an electronic form.
*Please note that virtual classes have regularly scheduled meeting days and times, so please consider time zones before enrolling in virtual courses.
All new/initial students wishing to enter the U.S. for Fall 2020 will need to have course enrollments that are not completely online/virtual. Before arriving to the U.S., you should enroll for Fall 2020 courses, and ensure that at least one course is in-person or hybrid.
All students arriving after Sept. 1 must already be enrolled full-time in their degree program and must follow the below protocols:
Arrival after the Add/Drop Period (Sept. 15-30):
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 Spring 2021. Once your admission is updated to reflect Spring 2021, ISSO will update your Form I-20 to reflect a start term of Spring 2021.
On July 24, SEVP posted their Clarifying FAQ for Fall 2020, outlining the following:
* Some exceptions may apply, particularly involving "Change of Status" students.
Yes, you can return to or remain in your home country, taking online/virtual courses for the fall semester. ISSO will keep your SEVIS record in Active status. However, we will notify you, should any further guidance be issued on this item.
Yes, although your failure to enroll in any courses for the Fall 2020 semester will require you to depart the U.S. prior to the start of the Fall 2020 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 Spring 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.
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 fall 2020 semester, please note:
Change of Level Students within the US can be treated as “active” continuing students, permitted to take a fully online course load.
Change of Level Students outside of the US can be treated as a continuing student even from overseas. ISSO will SEVIS register the student, activating his/her 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 SP21 semester already in “active” SEVIS status. No termination, deferral or data fix is necessary, as they will maintain their active SEVIS record.
If you had previously filed a petition to change your status to F-1, the petition was approved and - as of the Fall 2020 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 Spring 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 FA20 registration is not entirely online.
New transfer students already in the US and enrolling for fall, and who had not left the US since last March’s SEVP COVID-related guidance, can be considered a “continuing student”, as described in the SEVP guidance. ISSO will SEVIS register student, and students can take a fully online course load. 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 entering the US for the FA20 semester is the same as above. Students can be enrolled in a fully online course of study, and ISSO will SEVIS register student, 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 fall 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 SP21 with a SEVIS data fix prior to their eventual return for the Spring 2021 semester.
Theoretically, the data fix to “reactivate” the SEVIS record for Sp21 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 fall are the same situation as above. Theoretically, even without FA20 enrollment, due to COVID we would be able to defer the start of the transfer to Sp21 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 FA20 enrollment may make the data fix process go smoother, but it is not clear that enrollment is absolutely necessary to process the data fix.