COVID19 FAQ

Following guidance from Georgia Tech Administration and the University System of Georgia, the Office of International Education has implemented its continuity of operations plan.  This plan moves OIE to email and other internet-based forms of communication until further notice.  When you have questions or require support, please email the following contacts:
    International Students and Scholars:  info@oie.gatech.edu
    Education Abroad:  study.abroad@gatech.edu
    For all other inquiries, please refer to the staff list:  https://oie.gatech.edu/about-us

OIE remains committed to providing excellent service to all of our stakeholders.  We look forward to working with you virtually to continue supporting Tech's global mission. We appreciate your support and understanding as we and the rest of the world respond to the current public health crisis. 

General Guidance

Q: How can I request support for updating my SEVIS record or requesting an immigration benefit like OPT or CPT?

A: Please utilize the iStart portal at istart.gatech.edu to submit any requests and visit our website for advising options.

Q: How can I learn more about institutional announcements regarding COVID-19?

A: You can stay up-to-date with all of the latest institutional announcements on COVID-19 shared here: http://health.gatech.edu/coronavirus.

Q: How will I receive copies of my I-20 or DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility during this time?

A: OIE advisers are continuing to process all benefit requests and updates at this time. Once your request is processed you will receive instructions on how to request shipping. Shipping options include U.S. standard postal service at OIE expense or Express shipping with tracking at your expense.

Q: How can I receive a travel signature?

A: Student and scholar visa holders can submit a request for a travel signature via iStart. Once the travel signature is provided you will receive instructions to request shipping via U.S. postal service (at OIE expense) or Express mailing (at your expense).

Q: How can I meet with an OIE adviser during this time?

A: OIE is providing virtual advising services to support international students and scholars. You can organize an appointment with an OIE adviser by visiting the OIE Advising website.

Q: Will travel restrictions still be in place if I depart the U.S. for a temporary period and attempt to return later?

A: The COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid situation. It is not possible for us to predict what travel restrictions may be in place over the course of the next several months. If you are interested in international travel during this time, please be aware of the following:

Many U.S. embassies and consulates are providing emergency services only to U.S. citizens and not issuing student and Exchange Visitor visas. Travel restrictions for non-US persons entering the U.S. are in place for several countries and more countries may be added in the future.

Travel disruptions and restrictions are expected to continue and could affect your ability to maintain your student or exchange visitor visa status if you are unable to return to the U.S. and enroll in a full course of study or pursue program objectives. We encourage you to carefully consider avoiding non-essential international travel during this worldwide health crisis.

  • Many countries are implementing mandatory quarantines and re-entry restrictions for individuals attempting to enter with presence inside the U.S. within the last 14 days.
  • If you are graduating in the next year and are unable to return to classes when they resume a traditional format, you will likely lose eligibility to pursue post-completion Optional Practical Training.
Newly Admitted Student Guidance

Q: I am a newly admitted student requiring a visa, but visa services are currently suspended in my region, what options are available to me?

A: On March 18, the U.S. Department of State published an announcement regarding the suspension of standard visa services due to the COVID-19 pandemic at many U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. Students in affected regions have the following options:

  • Locate another U.S. embassy or consulate open for routine visa services and apply there. Please note that due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, changes to travel restrictions and visa services are occurring daily and could interrupt your plans to travel elsewhere for visa processing.
  • Contact the local embassy or consulate to see if any provisions for student visas are in place to support your application for a student visa. Wait patiently for visa services to reopen in your region and keep your intended program start date the same.
  • Request a deferral of your intended program start date. Please follow the process outlined below based on your education level and expected program start date:

 

  • Graduate students only: The Office of Graduate Studies provides additional information on remote learning options available to international students in the COVID-19 Guidance for Graduate Education online at  grad.gatech.edu/covid19  
  • Undergraduate Students: We are continuing to monitor the availability of visa appointments as the rapidly evolving situation continues to unfold. If you ultimately need to request a deferral, you must have first paid your enrollment deposit. If you have specific questions concerning your circumstances or need to make a deferral request, contact Undergraduate Admissions at admission@gatech.edu.

 

Q: I am planning to transfer my SEVIS record from another U.S. institution and planning to depart the U.S. and return prior to my program start date, will it be possible for me to return to the U.S. or will travel restrictions be in place?

Travel disruptions and restrictions are expected to continue and could affect your ability to begin your program of study if you depart the U.S. now and attempt to return in summer or fall 2020. We encourage you to carefully consider avoiding non-essential international travel during this worldwide health crisis.

A: The COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid situation. It is not possible for us to predict what travel restrictions may be in place over the course of the next several months. If you are interested in international travel during this time, please be aware of the following:

Many U.S. embassies and consulates are providing emergency services only to U.S. citizens and not issuing student and Exchange Visitor visas. Travel restrictions for non-US persons entering the U.S. are in place for several countries and more countries may be added in the future. Many countries are implementing mandatory quarantines and re-entry restrictions for individuals attempting to enter with presence inside the U.S. within the last 14 days.

 

 

Enrolled Student Guidance

Q: Are classes going to be offered online after March 29?

A: Following guidance from the University System of Georgia, we will continue to test our business continuity plans and online instruction capabilities through March 29. On March 30, we will move all face-to-face instruction to an online or distance-based format. Please see Georgia Tech Coronavirus FAQ here: http://health.gatech.edu/coronavirus#faqs

Q: What time zone do I need to consider for distance learning?

A: To minimize conflicts, faculty have been encouraged to offer classes at the regularly scheduled time while being flexible with students who may have difficulty because of varying time zones. Additionally, some classes may move to an asynchronous format where there is no uniform, scheduled class time. Office hours will be held in a modified or remote format as determined by each faculty member.

OIE recommends that you consult with your academic advisor or professor regarding the timing considerations for your courses. You should receive further information from your academic department directly on how the distance learning format will operate.

Q: What are the implications for my F or J visa status if the Institute moves to a distance learning format for the rest of Spring 2020?

A: The US Department of Homeland Security announced a special exception allowing international students to continue full-time studies this semester via online learning. You are encouraged to remain enrolled full-time in your coursework for the remainder of the spring semester to maintain your international student visa status.

Q: If I finish my degree program while outside the U.S. am I eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training from abroad?

A: The I-765 is the application you file with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request the Optional Practical Training benefit for pre, post, and STEM extension OPT. On page 4, Part 3 of the I-765, USCIS states you must file the application while in the United States. No special provisions to allow F-1 student visa holders to apply from outside the U.S. during COVID-19 have been communicated by USCIS.

Q: Will the 5 month rule apply if I depart the U.S. and am unable to return within 5 months?

A: Per SEVP Guidance issued on March 23, “Under current conditions, if an active F student leaves the United States to complete the spring term online, their SEVIS record should remain in Active status and not be terminated. While the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, students deemed to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study. For that reason, the five-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(4) will not apply for students who remain in Active status.”

Curricular Practical Training Guidance

Q: Can I continue curricular practical training in a remote environment?

A: Yes, it is possible to continue practical training in a remote environment with your supervisor’s permission and continued supervision of your practical training experience. Students may engage in CPT during their time abroad, provided they are:

 • Enrolled in a program of study in which CPT is integral to the program of study;

• Their DSO authorized CPT in advance of the CPT start date; and

• Either the employer has an office outside the United States or the employer can assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives electronically.

Please be sure to update OIE with any changes to your employment via the Istart portal during this time.

Optional Practical Training Guidance

Q: Will the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) allow more than 90 day of unemployment and 150 day cumulative total for 24 month STEM Optional Practical Training due to COVID-19?

A: SEVP has not issued any temporary provisions to allow F-1 student visa holders to exceed the current unemployment limits of 90 days for 12 month post-completion OPT or cumulative total of 150 days for the 24 Month STEM Optional Practical Training Extension period. Students are advised to continue to report employment changes via Istart.gatech.edu within 10 days of the change.

Q: If my employer requires me to work remotely for a temporary period, does this constitute a Material Change of Employment which requires me to update OIE via Istart.gatech.edu?

A: A temporary move to a remote environment due to COVID-19 social distancing measures does not constitute a permanent transfer from one location to another and is not considered a material change which requires reporting to OIE and update in SEVIS.

Q: If I leave the U.S. for a temporary period during my 12 month Post-Completion OPT or 24 Month STEM Optional Practical Training and I am unable to return will I accrue unemployment for the time spent outside the U.S.?

A: SEVP policy guidance states, "Time spent outside the United States during an approved period of post-completion OPT counts as unemployment against the 90/150-day limits, unless the student is either:

Employed during a period of leave authorized by an employer; or Traveling as part of his or her employment.”

 

If you are unable to return to the U.S. and your employer authorizes you to continue your Optional Practical Training while abroad, you are encouraged to request a letter from your employer stating that you are in a period of travel which is part of your OPT employment.

 

Exchange Visitor Guidance

Q: I’m unable to arrive in the U.S. in time to begin my program, what options are available to support me?

A: The U.S. Department of States recommends delaying all program start dates to May 10, 2020 or later. You may request to change your program start date and program end date by contacting the HR manager in your host department, who will provide the relevant information to OIE. You will be notified by e-mail once your program start/end date(s) are updated.

If you have already received your J-1 visa, there is no need to send you the updated DS-2019; you may retrieve the updated document(s) when you arrive at Georgia Tech. If you require updated documents for your visa interview OIE will send you instructions on how to request shipping to your home address along with the notice that your program start date has been modified. 

Q: As an Exchange Visitor am I able to move to a remote environment in pursuit of my program objective?

A: All exchange visitors in Active status remaining inside the U.S. will be given the option to pursue program objectives remotely inside the U.S. Exchange Visitors should work with their host supervisors to ensure support for remote work accommodations. Any changes to the research activity such as topic, supervision, and international travel should be reviewed to ensure compliance with US laws and regulations. Please report any changes to OIE and please send a request for an export review to the Office of General Counsel, Counsel - Export and Trade, to asklegal@gatech.edu.

Q: I wish to return home and not continue my EV program, how do I notify OIE of my intent to depart?

A: Please notify your academic department HR coordinator that you wish to end your Exchange Visitor program early. Your academic department will notify OIE of the change to program dates.

Q: How can I request an extension of my program within the maximum duration of status?

A: Each exchange visitor category has a maximum duration of stay outlined within the federal regulations as per the chart below. Exchange Visitors with additional time remaining in the maximum duration of stay who wish to continue program objectives are eligible to request an extension. In order to request an extension, the Exchange Visitor should discuss their request to extend their program with their supervisor. The supervisor will request support from the academic department HR coordinator. The HR coordinator will enter a “J Scholar/Student Intern Extension Request” e-form request and work closely with OIE, Global HR, and the Office of General Counsel to request an extension of program end date within the maximum duration of the Exchange Visitor category. Exchange visitors will need to demonstrate proof of funding and evidence of existing health insurance meeting U.S. Department of State requirements with their request for extension.

Table 1: Maximum Duration of Exchange Visitor Categories

Exchange Visitor Category

Maximum Duration

Professor/Research Scholar

5 years

Short-Term Scholar

6 months

Specialist

1 year

Student Intern

1 year

 

Q: What options exist to remain beyond my program end date?

A: Exchange Visitors are eligible to remain inside the U.S. for 30 days after their program end date, this period of time is referred to as the 30-day grace period. Exchange Visitors are ineligible to continue working during the 30-day grace period, but can travel freely inside the U.S. Once you depart the U.S. in the 30-day grace period, you are ineligible to re-enter the U.S. within the 30-day grace period in J-1 status.

Q: I left the U.S. for a temporary period and am now unable to return to the U.S. to pursue my program objectives, what options are available to me to keep my SEVIS record in Active status?

Exchange Visitors in the Research Scholars and Professor categories currently outside the U.S. and unable to return will be provided with the option of either extending the period of their personal leave on Out-of-Country Travel Authorization or continuing their research program objectives after a review of Export Control and Global HR related issues. Exchange Visitors in the Professor and Research Scholar category can request support with extending the period of the Out-of-Country Authorization by submitting the “J Scholar Travel Signature” e-form request.  Exchange visitors interested in pursuing research abroad must receive approval for research plans in advance of beginning research with the Office of General Counsel by emailing asklegal@gatech.edu.

Q: I am planning to depart the U.S. and return home for a temporary period, what options are available to me to keep my SEVIS record in Active status?

Exchange Visitors interested in pursuing Out-of-Country travel authorizations during this time should request an Out-of-Country Travel Authorization utilizing the “J Scholar Travel Signature” e-form available at istart.gatech.edu. Temporary exceptions to the 30 day limit on personal travel will be considered during this time to help support Exchange Visitors interested in returning home during the pandemic. Continuing research program objectives while abroad will require approval from Export Control. Please contact asklegal@gatech.edu to request approval of out-of-country research.

Q: I plan to return to the U.S. to pursue my program objectives after a temporary time abroad, will I be required to self-quarantine?

A: Please follow current guidance available at http://health.gatech.edu/coronavirus#faqs

Q: What other responsibilities do I have to maintain status during this temporary move to a remote environment?

A: Exchange visitors must continue to maintain all Exchange Visitor requirements listed here.

Q: How can I request support from OIE with updating my SEVIS record?

A: OIE advisers are continuing to process all benefit requests and updates at this time. Once your request is processed you will receive instructions on how to request shipping. Shipping options include U.S. standard postal service at OIE expense or Express shipping with tracking at your expense.

Q: How can I meet with an OIE adviser during this time?

A: OIE is providing virtual advising services to support international students and scholars. You can organize an appointment with an OIE adviser by visiting the OIE Advising website.

Q:  My J-1 program end date is approaching and my funding support is ending.  Neither I nor my PI have the funds to continue to support an extension and I’m unable to return home due to the current situation.  What are my options?

A: In order to be eligible for an extension of the J-1 program end date, Exchange visitors must demonstrate all of the following evidence:

-Continued pursuit of original program objectives

-Adequate financial support for the duration of the extension

-Proof of insurance coverage meeting U.S. Department of State requirements for the J-1 primary visa holder and any J-2 visa holders

If you are unable to satisfy these conditions you will be ineligible for an extension. Options that exist include the following:

-Transfer to another institution to continue program objectives with funding from that institution prior to the J-1 program end date

-Departure prior to the 30 day grace period after the J-1 program end date

-Change of status within the U.S.

Q: Will I be subject to the 12 month or 24 month bar if I received a J-1 visa but was unable to enter the U.S. due to COVID-19 entry challenges?

A: The 12 and 24 month bar do not apply to individuals with less than 6 months of physical presence inside the U.S. in J-1 status. Because you were unable to enter the U.S. in J-1 status, you will not be subject to these bars. Please contact your host department to request a cancellation of your J-1 SEVIS record.

We encourage you to consult with a qualified immigration attorney if you are unable to pursue the options above and need additional support.

Q: Will it be possible for me to change my status within the U.S. if I am subject to 212(e)?

A: Individuals subject to 212(e) are required to receive approval for a waiver of this requirement from their home country and the U.S. government before they are eligible to apply for a change of status within the U.S. Georgia Tech is unable to provide legal counsel on the waiver application or change of status process to Exchange Visitors. 

 

Last modified: 
Friday, April 3, 2020 - 12:46am