Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates & FAQ

Berkeley International Office (BIO) understands that the UC Berkeley international community has many questions about the rapidly evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We created this webpage to answer common questions and share support resources.

BIO has shifted to remote and virtual online services only through May 3rd due to Alameda County’s “shelter in place” guidance. While our physical location is closed, we will maintain our virtual student advising and other advising services through email and Zoom (no advising on Wednesdays). Students, please see this question of our FAQ for details regarding document requests and processing during the shelter in place period. J-1 scholars and international faculty and staff, please see this question.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ

General

Can I travel internationally? Are there any entry restrictions to the U.S.?

BIO currently does not recommend international travel due to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak and its impacts to global travel. International travel is currently unpredictable and high risk. If you do choose to travel, be prepared for delays or the inability to re-enter the U.S. Be aware that travelers returning from CDC Risk Level 3 countries are required to follow UC Berkeley campus guidance following travel and re-entry. More information is available on the UC Berkeley Coronavirus news site and the University Health Services COVID-19 Information page.

A travel ban currently suspends entry into the United States of all aliens (except immediate family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents and others excluded in section 2 of the proclamations) who were physically present within 1) United Kingdom (excluding overseas territories outside of Europe) or Ireland 2) the Schengen Area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland), 3) the People's Republic of Iran, or 4) China (excluding the Special Autonomous Regions of Hong Kong and Macau) during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.

Effective March 20, 2020 according to a U.S.-Canada Border Federal Register Notice and a U.S.-Mexico Border Federal Register Notice, entry is only allowed to the United States through land ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada and U.S. Mexico borders for “essential travel” only. “Essential travel” includes “Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions; Individuals traveling to work in the United States.” The restrictions will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 20, 2020. A separate order from the CDC also suspends "the introduction of persons into the United States" who are traveling from Canada or Mexico "who would otherwise be introduced into a congregate setting in a land Port of Entry (POE) or Border Patrol station at or near the United States borders with Canada and Mexico." The order states that it is not applicable to "Persons from foreign countries who hold valid travel documents." It is unclear how this could apply for travelers sent to Secondary Inspection, because their documents cannot be verified or if they are missing appropriate travel documentation.

Additionally, many other countries may have travel restrictions of their own, which could impact your ability to enter those countries or move freely.

Global travel conditions are highly impacted and the Department of State is suspending routine U.S. visa services in most countries worldwide. Embassies and consulates in these countries will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 18, 2020. Visit your local U.S. embassy or consulate website to confirm operating status and find information about appointment rescheduling and/or emergency services. If you do make the personal decision to travel internationally, please carefully review the BIO travel & Re-Entry page for general information regarding travel and required re-entry documents. If your U.S. entry visa is expired, be aware that Applying for a Visa for entry could be unpredictable and could cause you to face further delays.

What does BIO mean when they say international travel is not recommended? What if I want to go home?

From an immigration perspective, international travel is currently very unpredictable. If you are currently maintaining a student, scholar or employee immigration status in the U.S. and you depart, BIO cannot guarantee your ability to return to the U.S. in a timely manner, which could have an impact on your U.S. visa status if you are unable to resume to continue your requirements as a student, scholar or employee. 

BIO understands that you may have serious personal or health concerns which require you to depart, or that you may feel more comfortable experiencing this crisis supported by family or in your home country. We want to make sure that as you make these important decisions, you understand the possible risks involved — including the fact that you may not be able to re-enter the U.S. at the time you intend. Additionally, many other countries have travel restrictions of their own, which could impact your ability to enter those countries or move freely. 

If you are considering a short trip to a country which is not your home, you may also want to consider the risk that you could remain stuck there if the travel situation changes while you are away, possibly limiting your ability to enter to the U.S. (or any other country). Are you prepared to be delayed for a while in the country you are visiting? You'll have to decide for yourself how comfortable you feel with that risk. It might be important for you to rethink your travel dates and make adjustments to later in the year.

Can I travel within the U.S.?

Even within the U.S., different regions are experiencing travel impacts and restrictions. The CDC: COVID-19 Cases in the U.S. website has updated numbers per state, but this is changing quickly. If you choose to travel domestically, please be sure to consider your own health and safety. We encourage you to follow the CDC and local recommendations for travel. Aside from any risk from COVID-19 itself, be prepared for possible localized shelter in place orders, transportation bans or infrastructure disruption which may impact your travel plans.

There is currently a Shelter in Place directive for Alameda County (or another county where I live). What should I do? Where can I go? If I need to take a flight home, am I allowed to travel?

Currently, Alameda County has a Shelter in Place order through May 3rd, 2020 which limits activity, travel and business functions to only the most essential needs. You can review UC Berkeley’s message from Chancellor Carol Christ regarding the impact to the UC Berkeley campus.

The order defines essential activities (page 5) as necessary for the health and safety for individuals and their families. The order also defines what types of businesses are considered essential businesses (page 7) allowed to operate during the recommended shelter in place period. For the full list, please see section 13 of the order.

Page 11 of the order states that travel is allowed to “return to a place of residence from outside the jurisdiction.” OR for “for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the County. Individuals are strongly encouraged to verify that their transportation out of the County remains available and functional prior to commencing such travel.”

I need to leave the U.S. and BIO has not signed my I-20 or DS-2019 document! Is that OK?

Please know that you do not need a travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 document to either remain in OR to depart the U.S. You DO need a valid travel signature to return to the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status. A valid travel signature must be no more than twelve months old on the date that you return to the U.S. (For F-1 students on post-completion Optional Practical Training or STEM OPT Extension, travel endorsements are only valid for 6 months.)

If you are departing the U.S. soon and know that your travel signature will be expired by the time you expect to return to the U.S., you have limited options at this time due to Alameda County’s shelter in place directive currently effective through May 3rd. Because of the shelter in place directive, students are not permitted to enter our building for document signatures or to pick up documents, and we are severely limited in the number of staff allowed to enter the building for document printing and mailout support.

Enrolled F-1/J-1 students, please see this question for specific instructions. J-1 scholars, please see this question.

I have a trip to a CDC Level 3 country that is not currently under a travel ban planned for later this semester or this summer. Or, I am planning a trip to somewhere near other CDC Level 3 impacted areas.

BIO currently does not recommend international travel due to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak and its impacts to global travel. Please see the above question, “Can I travel internationally? Are there any entry restrictions to the U.S.?” for information about current travel restrictions, visa suspensions, and entry to the U.S.

Travel for individuals to regions in or near CDC Level 3 countries is unpredictable and high risk. Whether or not you should travel is a personal decision. The current COVID-19 situation is changing quickly. If you do choose to travel, be prepared for delays or the inability to re-enter the U.S., or the possibility that your mobility may be limited in the country in which you choose to travel. Are you prepared to be delayed for a while in the country you are visiting? You'll have to decide for yourself how comfortable you feel with that risk. It might be important for you to rethink your travel dates and make adjustments to later in the year.

If you do make the personal decision to travel internationally, please carefully review the BIO Travel & Re-Entry page for general information regarding travel and required re-entry documents. If your U.S. entry visa is expired, be aware that Applying for a Visa for entry could be unpredictable and could cause you to face further delays. Global travel conditions are highly impacted and the Department of State is suspending routine U.S. visa services in most countries worldwide. Embassies and consulates in these countries have canceled all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 18, 2020. Visit your local U.S. embassy or consulate website to confirm operating status and find information about appointment rescheduling and/or emergency services.

What if I was in a travel ban impacted country more than 14 days ago, and wish to re-enter the U.S.?

The current COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving and unpredictable. It's unclear how long the travel bans may remain in effect for re-entry to the U.S. and how entry could be impacted for travelers even after the 14 day window. Currently, BIO does not have access to clear guidance on what documentation travelers may use to prove they were not present in travel ban impacted areas within the indicated time period. Do you have access to immigration, residence documents, or other documentation which can officially confirm your location? Are you currently employed? Does your passport accurately reflect your entries and exits?

My program is ending and I can't leave!

BIO is aware that many flights to impacted regions have been canceled, and that travel may not be available at this time. If your program is ending soon and you are unable to depart the United States, please notify Berkeley International Office to let us know about your situation. We will work with our clients on a case-by-case basis to determine the best path forward. We urge you to also contact your home country’s local consulate or embassy in the U.S. for support and information regarding travel home. We will work with our clients on a case-by-case basis to determine the best path forward.

I'm really worried and stressed. Where can I find support?

With the ongoing concerns around COVID-19, BIO understands that there may be concern and anxiety about family around the world. In addition, with the increasing level of news coverage and concerns about the spread of the virus locally, some of you may be experiencing anxiety or stress. Please know that these reactions are normal and there are ways in which you can take care of yourself during these stressful times.

The university has many resources available to help you cope with these situations. At the following links you can access various resources that you may find useful about how to take care of yourself.

Resources available for students, scholars and employees:

Counseling resources just for students:

Counseling resources just for scholars and employees:

Also be aware that BIO advisers are always ready and willing to be of assistance in any way we can. Please Contact Us for support or resources.

Where can I find health and travel information about COVID-19?

Please see our Resources section on the right sidebar of this page. BIO will continue to update this as we discover new resources.

I am experiencing xenophobia, racism, harassment, or bullying. What can I do and where can I find support?

Please notify Berkeley International Office so that we are aware of your situation and can assist with connecting you to support. 

UC Berkeley and BIO are committed to upholding our Principles of Community, to ensure that all members of our campus community, regardless of race or country of origin, feel welcome, safe, and respected.  

Please know that these behaviors have no place in the UC Berkeley community. UC Berkeley prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of categories including race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation/identity and/or sexual violence status. If you have experienced physical assaults, hate crimes, and/or threats of violence, you have the right to report them to UCPD and the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD). Concerns about hateful incidents or messages also can be made via stophate.berkeley.edu, the systemwide portal for making those reports.

Students can seek counseling support at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Scholars and employees can access counseling services through Be Well at Work.

Is BIO open for in-person advising and other services?

BIO has shifted to remote and virtual online services only through May 3rd due to Alameda County’s “shelter in place” guidance. While our physical location is closed, we will maintain our virtual student advising and other advising services through email and Zoom (no advising on Wednesdays).

F-1 and J-1 Enrolled Degree-Seeking & UCEAP Students

I am an F-1 or J-1 enrolled degree-seeking or UCEAP student and I need to submit a request to BIO for processing and document production. When will you process my new I-20/DS-2019? How can I receive it?

Please note that BIO’s document-production services and processing times will be severely impacted by Alameda County’s shelter in place directive. Students are not permitted to enter our building to pick up documents, and we are severely limited in the number of staff allowed to enter the building for document printing and mailout support. We are currently accepting all requests, but we are prioritizing requests that are time-sensitive (e.g., requests required for applications to USCIS for immigration benefits, requests for extension of imminently expiring I-20s or DS-2019s, or other requests requiring immediate action). 

We expect documents to be ready for mailout within 8 business days. Your document request will be delayed if it is incomplete or requires additional follow-up. While our physical office is closed, we are only mailing documents via FedEx express mail or filing them for pick-up after our office reopens. Mailings are scheduled to occur each Monday and Thursday, but this is subject to change.

What can I do to receive a travel endorsement for my re-entry if I am unable to visit BIO in person?

F-1 and J-1 Enrolled Degree-seeking or UCEAP Students

If your re-entry date is within the next 30 days, you can submit a Replacement Document request to internationaloffice@berkeley.edu and we will print and mail a new I-20 or DS-2019 to you. The request will include instructions for requesting Express Mail shipping, which is required for all mailout. Please note that printing and mailing is only occurring once a week during the shelter in place period currently through May 3rd. BIO will resume regular processing and mailout after May 3rd, or when the shelter in place order is lifted. We are NOT accepting Replacement Document requests if your re-entry date is more than 30 days in the future.

I am a new student outside of the U.S. and I can't enter to start my program. Or, I am a continuing student, and I am unable to re-enter to resume my classes. What can I do?

The current COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving and unpredictable. It's unclear how long the travel bans or other global travel restrictions may remain in effect for re-entry to the U.S. and how your entry could be impacted. If you are currently outside of the United States and are unable to enter the country, please notify Berkeley International Office to let us know about your situation. We will work with our clients on a case-by-case basis to determine the best path forward, and (for new students) if your I-20/DS-2019 start date and documents should be adjusted. You must consult with your college adviser (undergraduates) or graduate adviser (graduates) and contact BIO if you will be unable to arrive in time to begin your program, continue your program, or if you will be withdrawing.

If you made plans to travel to the U.S. to begin an upcoming UC Berkeley program or appointment, there are several factors to consider. Be aware that travelers returning from CDC Risk Level 3 countries are required to follow UC Berkeley campus guidance following travel and re-entry. More information is available on the UC Berkeley Coronavirus news site and the University Health Services COVID-19 Information page.

Please see the above question, “Can I travel internationally? Are there any entry restrictions to the U.S.?” section for information about current travel restrictions, visa suspensions, and entry to the U.S

I am a new student who may be arriving late, or I am considering deferring to a future semester.

Late Arrivals

If you will be arriving late, please confirm with your academic advisors and instructors that your arrival date is acceptable. If you will be arriving within 7 days of the start of classes date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019, contact your academic advisor for a letter confirming you are approved for late arrival. If you will be arriving more than 7 days after the start of classes, notify Berkeley International Office to arrange for adjustments to your I-20 or DS-2019 start date.

Deferrals

If you have been approved for a deferral of your admission to a future semester, please notify Berkeley International Office. Upon notification by Admissions of your official deferral, we will work with you to adjust your I-20 or DS-2019 start date to the future term.

Newly Admitted Undergraduates will need to contact the Office of Admissions to determine if you have an option to defer to a future semester.

Graduate Students should also communicate with their academic department regarding any option to defer.

I am a new student who has decided I will not attend UC Berkeley. What do I need to do?

If you withdraw or cancel your admission or enrollment with UC Berkeley, BIO will need to cancel your current I-20 or DS-2019. If you  have decided to cancel or withdraw your coming semester, please notify Berkeley International Office and see information from the Office of the Registrar regarding cancellation and withdrawal procedures and information about tuition refund deadlines

Newly Admitted Undergraduates cancelling before the start of their first semester should follow instructions from the Office of Admissions regarding their cancellation process.

Graduate Students should also communicate with their academic department regarding any plans to cancel or withdraw.

What will happen if I am unable to return and I withdraw or cancel my enrollment at UC Berkeley?

If you are on a student visa status and you withdraw or cancel your enrollment, this will have a direct impact on your F-1 or J-1 student visa status. Please contact a BIO adviser before you take any steps to officially withdraw or cancel future semesters. If you withdraw without communicating with BIO, this may result in a negative termination of your student visa record.

I am outside of the U.S. and unable to enter to start or continue my F-1 student OPT or apply for OPT.

The current COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving and unpredictable. It's unclear how long the travel bans or other global travel restrictions may remain in effect for re-entry to the U.S. and how your entry could be impacted. If you are currently outside of the United States and are unable to return, please notify Berkeley International Office to let us know about your situation. We will work with our F-1 OPT students on a case-by-case basis to determine the best path forward. Be sure to review OPT information on the BIO website, including the OPT tutorial, application instructions, employment/address reporting, and required travel documents.

Be aware that you may not exceed 90 days of unemployment during OPT. If you are currently approved for OPT, you may need to determine if you can work remotely for your employer. If you do not have an employer, it’s possible that you might exceed the 90 days of unemployment if you are unable to begin employment. 

If you are currently outside of the U.S. and have not yet applied for OPT, you must re-enter prior to your program completion date in order to qualify to apply for OPT. Please contact BIO as soon as possible for advising, which might include planning to extend your program of study.

I am an F-1 student and I have already applied for my post-completion OPT. Will my OPT processing be delayed due to COVID-19 impacts to USCIS?

BIO is not currently able to predict how this may impact USCIS services. Please continue to check the USCIS website for updates or visit the USCIS COVID-19 response page. As of March 18, in-person services have been suspended, but this does not include F-1 OPT which is a mail-in application requiring no interview or in-person appointment.

I am a student who is planning to depart for the rest of the semester. If I depart the U.S., and I am unable to return within 5 months, will the visa stamp in my passport remain valid? What about my student status?

Berkeley International Office recommends that you book a re-entry date within 5 months of your departure from the U.S. if possible. However, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program has issued guidance for F-1 students specifically stating: “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 [are] 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.” BIO will not take any specific action to end student records for individuals who remain enrolled students and are outside of the U.S. for more than 5 months. We cannot confirm the decision that U.S. Customs and Border Protection may make regarding the visa validity upon re-entry, but we can report that prior students who have studied abroad or completed necessary research abroad for extended times have not faced re-entry issues.

If you are currently outside of the U.S. and are unable to return to the United States to resume classes or your UC Berkeley employment or appointment, please notify Berkeley International Office to let us know about your situation. We will work with our clients on a case-by-case basis to determine the best path forward. If you are a student, please also notify your academic advisor and instructors.

Will temporarily attending classes online impact my student visa status?

On the basis of guidance received from the Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), we can confirm that student visa status will not be impacted by the emergency transition to distance learning for normally in-person classes. BIO continues to monitor and follow all current DHS and Department of State guidance for our F-1 and J-1 students and exchange visitors.

J-1 Visiting Scholars and International Faculty and Staff

What are BIO's current procedures for J Scholar and Employment-based operations?

BIO staff on the J scholar and employment-based teams are working remotely through May 3rd following campus guidanceDuring this period we continue to process cases remotely and departments can continue to submit cases as usual. Unless there are urgent circumstances, Form DS-2019s will be sent after the campus re-opens.

What can I do to receive a travel endorsement for my re-entry if I am unable to visit BIO in person?

Email jscholar@berkeley.edu if you are a scholar and require a travel signature because you intend to travel internationally and return to resume your J-1 program. Please indicate the intended dates of your travel in the message along with a copy of your J visa stamp.

I am a new visiting scholar or employee currently outside of the U.S. and I can't enter to start my program. Or, I am a continuing scholar employee, and I cannot enter to resume my appointment. What can I do?

The current COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving and unpredictable. It's unclear how long the travel bans or other global travel restrictions may remain in effect for re-entry to the U.S. and how your entry could be impacted. If you are currently outside of the United States and are planning to enter the country, please notify Berkeley International Office to let us know about your situation. We will work with our clients on a case-by-case basis to determine the best path forward, and (for new scholars or employees) if your start date and documents should be adjusted. Consult with your UC Berkeley faculty sponsor, human resources representative, or department administrator, and contact BIO if there will be any changes to your program dates or affiliation.

If you made plans to travel to the U.S. to begin an upcoming UC Berkeley program or appointment, there are several factors to consider. Be aware that travelers returning from CDC Risk Level 3 countries are required to follow UC Berkeley campus guidance following travel and re-entry. More information is available on the UC Berkeley Coronavirus news site and the University Health Services COVID-19 Information page.

Please see the above question, “Can I travel internationally? Are there any entry restrictions to the U.S.?” section for information about current travel restrictions, visa suspensions, and entry to the U.S.

What will happen if I end my UC Berkeley appointment early and/or I depart the United States and do not intend to return to the U.S. for my J program?

If you are a scholar and you depart the U.S. early (more than 15 days before your DS-2019 end date) and you do not intend to return to the U.S. for the remainder of your J program, please discuss this with your faculty sponsor and human resources representative. Please also email jscholar@berkeley.edu so that we can advise you on the steps and the visa implications of ending your program early.

I am an international J-1 scholar and my program ended in March but I am unable to depart the U.S. due to flight cancelations or other issues outside of my control. What should I do?

We understand that many of our J-1 Exchange Visitors have experienced difficulties in returning home due to flight cancelations and other circumstances outside of your control. IF YOU ARE IN THE UNITED STATES PLEASE REPORT TO US IMMEDIATELY AND NO LATER THAN APRIL 7TH TO NOTIFY US OF YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES by emailing jscholar@berkeley.edu.

The Department of State has announced that for J-1 exchange visitors who completed their exchange programs in March but remain in the U.S. due to circumstances outside of their control (lack of flights home, etc.), the Department of State will work with our office to reinstate and extend your program in SEVIS until May 31, 2020. However, this option is only available for cases that are reported to us and we must notify the U.S. Department of State immediately. We are hopeful that this guidance applies to all J exchange visitors in March, even those whose programs are reaching the maximum duration of their category.

Our department is inviting a Visiting Scholar who is currently overseas to join our department. When will they be able to start?

U.S. embassies overseas remain closed for routine visa services, and we anticipate a backlog once operations resume. Therefore, even after scholars receive their Forms DS-2019, it will likely take several months before they are able to secure visas and arrive on campus. We therefore strongly encourage new cases submitted to have start dates no earlier than August 1st unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Resources

Please note that the above webinar (Travel and Visa webinar) was recorded before the March 11th Presidential Proclamation that added the Schengen Area (26 European states) to the travel ban. Please check our Immigration Policy Updates page for the latest information.