COVID-19 Updates & FAQ

Berkeley International Office (BIO) understands that the UC Berkeley international community has many questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. We created this webpage to answer your common questions and share helpful resources.

This page was last updated on July 22, 2021.

FAQ sections:

General

Travel

Health and Support

New & Continuing Students (Fall 2021)

F-1 and J-1 Enrolled Students - General Questions

New & Continuing Students (Summer 2021)

F-1 and J-1 Post-Completion Employment

J-1 Visiting Scholars and International Faculty and Staff

 

General

Travel

Are there any current travel bans or entry restrictions to the U.S.?

Current Travel Bans for Students, Scholars & Non-Immigrant Employees

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 India*, South Africa*, Brazil*, United Kingdom* (excluding overseas territories outside of Europe), Ireland*, 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), Iran*, or China* (excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau) during the 14-day period before their entry or attempted entry into the United States.

* F-1 Student National Interest Exception (NIE) for India, China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland

Please review information carefully as you make decisions to travel to or from any of the travel ban countries, which include 2 groups: the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, or Ireland and China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India. Please note that these groups are subject to slightly different restrictions. F-1 students can qualify for an automatic National Interest Exception which will allow entry under specific conditions.

For information about entry dates for students who qualify for a NIE, please see this question.

J-1s & NIE

According to guidance from the Department of State, existing J-1 visa holders would need to apply for approval of an NIE through their local embassy before they can enter the U.S. Students and scholars seeking to apply for new J-1 visas and who are found to be otherwise qualified should apply for an NIE through their embassy to be considered for travel to the U.S.

Mexico & Canada Travel Restrictions

Travel restrictions are currently in effect through August 21, 2021 for the U.S.-Canada Border and the U.S.-Mexico Border. Current orders restrict entry along land ports of entry on the U.S.-Canada and U.S. Mexico borders to “essential travel” only. “Essential travel” includes “Individuals traveling to attend educational institutions; Individuals traveling to work in the United States.” A separate order from the CDC also suspends entry along the Canada/Mexico border to those in a “congregate setting” at a Port of Entry or Border Patrol station. The congregate setting order indicates that it is not applicable to travelers holding valid immigration documents. It’s not clear how this could apply for travelers sent to Secondary Inspection, because their documents cannot be verified or if they are missing appropriate travel documentation.

I’m currently in a country under a COVID travel ban, but I can qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE). When can I enter the U.S.?

There are currently 3 NIE policy statements on the Department of State’s website dated May 12, 2021, May 27, 2021 and June 24, 2021. These statements contain somewhat ambiguous wording. The Department of State has been asked to clarify the policy, and we will continue to update you as further information becomes available. We believe the following information is important for you as you make decisions to travel to or from any of the travel ban countries, which include 2 groups: the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, or Ireland and China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India. These groups are subject to slightly different restrictions.

Students in the United Kingdom, Schengen Area and Ireland:

The May 27, 2021 and June 24, 2021 statements indicate that both new and continuing F-1 and J-1 students who were present in the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland are not subject to the August 1 entry date, and may enter the U.S. prior to August 1. We encourage all students to seek clarification from your local consulate and/or airline as these conditions could be subject to change. The NIE is automatic for F-1 students. Individuals entering on a J visa are required to apply for an NIE through their local consulate, and as of June 6, 2021, the NIE for J-1s will remain valid for 12 months and multiple entries.

Confusion over the effective date of the NIE for new or continuing students in China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa and India:

The May 27, 2021 statement indicates that "NIE eligibility for students who have been present in Brazil, China, India, Iran, or South Africa applies only to programs that begin on or after August 1, 2021," and the June 24, 2021 statement says that, "New or returning students present in China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa, or India may arrive no earlier than 30 days before the start of an academic program beginning August 1, 2021 or after, including optional practical training (OPT)." While the policy addresses new students, students who are continuing an academic program after August 1, 2021, and students traveling on OPT, the wording has led to differing interpretations regarding the first allowable entry date and whether arrival prior to August 1 is allowable for all groups. On this basis, we urge you to plan cautiously. Students entering the U.S. from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa or India are advised to consider suspending entry to the U.S. prior to August 1 OR to consult with their airline and local embassy if planning entry prior to August 1. For further confirmation, please check with your local consulate and/or airline. The NIE is automatic for F-1 students. Individuals entering on a J visa are required to apply to their local consulate for an NIE.

F-1 OPT/STEM OPT students:

The recent updates to the NIE announcements indicate that travel is also allowed for students on practical training, which includes OPT and STEM OPT. The updated announcements continue to make reference to training that “begins August 1, 2021 or later” and BIO continues to advise OPT/STEM OPT students who are located in China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa or India to consider suspending entry to the U.S. prior to August 1 OR to consult with their airline and local embassy if planning entry prior to August 1.

F-2 Dependents:

The May 12, 2021 and June 24, 2021 NIE statements also address dependents of NIE-eligible “principals” (the primary F-1 or J-1 status holder) indicating that the entry is available to: “Derivative family members accompanying or following to join a noncitizen who has been granted, would be reasonably expected to receive an NIE, or is otherwise not subject to the Proclamations and who is engaging in certain types of long-term employment, studies, or research lasting four weeks or more.” This indicates that F-2 dependents would qualify for the automatic NIE at the same time that the F-1 would become eligible for entry. J-2 dependents would need to apply to their local consulate with the primary J-1 for an NIE.

J-1 & J-2 Dependents:

The NIE is not automatic for J visa holders. J-1s and J-2 dependents would need to apply to their local consulate for an NIE.

Do I need COVID testing to enter the U.S.? Am I required to quarantine?

Please review the current CDC travel and testing requirements for entry to the U.S. Also review state and local guidelines for the U.S. location to which you will be traveling. Review current UC Berkeley travel guidance regarding what steps to take after your return to UC Berkeley. Students can find information about COVID testing, vaccination, and self-sequester arrival guidelines here: Summer and Fall 2021 COVID Guidelines for Students.

Do I need to be vaccinated to attend UC Berkeley for Fall 2021?

On June 12, it was announced that the University of California will move forward with a vaccine mandate. For more information about what this means for students, please visit the University Health Services (UHS) website to review the COVID Vaccine Policy, which includes a helpful Student FAQ about the policy and requirements. Vaccines will be available for students who need them. See the UHS COVID-19 vaccine webpage for details about upcoming vaccine clinics.

For information about COVID testing, vaccination, and self-sequester arrival guidelines, please visit Summer and Fall 2021 COVID Guidelines for Students.

Can I apply for a U.S. visa right now? Are consulates and embassies open for applications?

The Department of State continues to implement a phased resumption of visa services, including F-1 and J-1 category visas. Visit your local U.S. embassy or consulate website to confirm operating status and find information about appointment rescheduling and/or emergency services. Please also be aware that global travel conditions remain highly impacted and could change rapidly, and visa applicants could face serious delays.

I am a current student, scholar, or employee in the U.S. Is it OK for me to exit the U.S.? Will I be able to return?

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 may 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 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.

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.

Are there any University of California restrictions for university-related travel (i.e. field research or academic travel) at this time?

The University of California Office of the President (UCOP)'s executive directive requires that all UC travelers must follow CDC Guidance before, during, and upon return from domestic or international travel. The UCOP directive has delegated to the campus the determination of what is considered essential travel. 

Additionally, all UC Berkeley community members (faculty, students, staff) engaging in university-related international travel to countries rated CDC Level 3 COVID-19 High (avoid all nonessential travel) or Level 4 COVID-19 Very High (avoid all travel), must seek approval through the two-step International Travel Protocol. For additional information, please see the Berkeley Global Engagement website. Specific questions can be directed to geo@berkeley.edu.

Please also consult your Berkeley International Office advisor to ensure that travel will not impact your visa status.

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.

Where can I find information about current health orders impacting Berkeley and surrounding areas?

You can review current Alameda County and City of Berkeley health orders. If you live in a different area, please check the Health Department instructions for your locality.

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

Yes, it’s 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.) You will only need a valid signature to apply for a new visa if the F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in your passport is expired and/or for your re-entry into the U.S.

See sections below for instructions for Enrolled F-1/J-1 Students or J-1 Scholars to request a new travel endorsement.

The visa stamp in my passport has expired! Do I need to leave the U.S. to renew it right now?

No! The visa is just an entry document. Your I-20 or DS-2019 has a future expiration date (or post-completion F-1 OPT) on it to maintain its validity. If you remain in the U.S. with a valid I-20 or DS-2019, you are not required to extend the visa stamp in your passport. The visa in the passport only needs to be extended if you leave the U.S. and need to reenter the U.S. If you are presently in the U.S., your I-20 or DS-2019 is still valid, and the visa stamp in your passport is expired, there is no need for you to make a trip just to extend the visa.

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 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.

F-1/J-1 students, please see this question for more specific options.

Health and Support

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.

New & Continuing Students (Fall 2021)

What’s the definition of a “new” student and a “continuing” student for visa purposes?

For F-1/J-1 purposes, you are considered a “new” student if you entered or will enter the U.S. with F-1 or J-1 status after March 9, 2020

A “continuing” student for visa purposes is a student who entered the U.S. with F-1/J-1 status before March 9, 2020 and has remained continuously enrolled after March 9, 2020

Examples:

You were admitted for Fall 2020 and issued an I-20/DS-2019 with a Fall 2020 start date. You entered the U.S. to begin Fall 2020 and your F-1 or J-1 record was activated after entry. In Fall 2020, you were a new student for visa purposes. In Spring 2021, you are still a new student for visa purposes.

You were admitted for Fall 2020 and issued an I-20/DS-2019 with a Fall 2020 start date.  However, you enrolled remotely for Fall 2020 and remained abroad. Your I-20 or DS-2019 start date was adjusted to Spring 2021. Because you have not yet entered the U.S., you are still a new student even though you have been enrolled since Fall 2020.

You were previously enrolled at UC Berkeley and took a gap year. You have been readmitted to Spring 2021 to return to your studies and you have received an I-20 or DS-2019 with a Spring 2021 start date. You are a new student for Spring 2021.

You were admitted for Fall 2020 and issued an I-20/DS-2019 with a Fall 2020 start date.  However, you enrolled remotely for Fall 2020 and remained abroad. Your I-20 or DS-2019 start date was adjusted to Fall 2021. Because you have not yet entered the U.S., you are still a new student even though you have been enrolled since Fall 2021.

You were previously enrolled at UC Berkeley and took a gap year. You have been readmitted to Fall 2021 to return to your studies and you have received an I-20 or DS-2019 with a Spring 2021 start date. You are a new student for Spring 2021.

I am a new or continuing student entering the U.S. for study. Do I need a new I-20 with special language about hybrid instruction to apply for a visa and/or enter the U.S. for hybrid instruction?

No. On July 24, 2020 SEVP updated their guidance informing schools that annotated I-20s are not needed for students when applying for an F-1 visa or when entering the U.S. Be sure that you have all of the necessary documents to enter the U.S. If you are a new student, or a continuing student and your current F-1/J-1 visa stamp has expired, be sure to review the documents required to apply for a student visa. Continuing students whose I-20/DS-2019 travel endorsement has expired can submit a Replacement Document request to internationaloffice@berkeley.edu and BIO will send you a new I-20/DS-2019 with a new travel endorsement.

Can BIO provide me with a letter for entry to the U.S. or for my visa appointment?

Spring/Summer 2021 Entry Letter

BIO has made available an entry letter for Spring and Summer 2021 based on current DHS guidance for students who choose to enter for those terms. Please review the enrollment guidance for new students and continuing students so that you understand the risks to entry. This guidance applies to all students entering for Spring or Summer 2021.

If you need to confirm your specific enrollment or degree program details, you can print your Cal Central enrollment and class schedule, request an official enrollment verification via Cal Central, or contact your academic department.

Fall 2021 Entry Letter

An entry letter for Fall 2021 is available for students entering beginning Fall 2021. New students entering the U.S. for Fall 2021 should plan to be physically on-campus. As the campus transitions back to fully in-person learning, we expect current DHS guidance to continue to allow increased flexibility in remote instruction. We advise all students who are planning to enter the U.S. to enroll in as much in-person instruction as possible.

I am a new student who is not in the U.S. and I plan to enter the U.S. for the Fall semester to enroll. How does the Fall 2021 enrollment model affect me?

The default instructional mode for Fall 2021 will be primarily in-person and in general, all students are expected to be physically present on campus for Fall 2021. We encourage you to review the Academic Guide for the latest information regarding available coursework and/or to consult with an academic advisor in your department or college to discuss available coursework and your options. Classes with more than 200 students may be delivered remotely, while most secondary sections (e.g., discussion and labs) for these classes and other large classes will be held in-person, but some discussion sections will be offered remotely. 

On April 26th, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) provided updated guidance related to enrollment requirements for students for the Fall 2021 semester. This guidance essentially continues the guidance issued to schools on March 9, 2020, which allows hybrid instruction for new students and fully remote instruction (if needed) for continuing students. All F-1 or J-1 students who enter the U.S. are expected to remain enrolled in full-time units, or to apply and be approved for an authorized Reduced Course Load for Academic or Medical Reasons

New or Initial F-1/J-1 students who began or will begin their program of study in the U.S. after March 9, 2020 must be enrolled in at least one course with in-person instructional mode. Berkeley’s instructional model is primarily in-person, but it includes hybrid instruction as well. 

Continuing F-1/J-1 students who were in Active F-1/J-1 status as of March 9, 2020 are technically allowed fully remote instruction if needed, but most instruction will be in-person.

I am a new or continuing F-1/J-1 student who is not in the U.S. What if I am not able to arrive in the U.S. in time for the start of classes?

If you do plan to be here for Fall 2021, we encourage you to take all necessary steps to begin your new student visa or continuing student re-entry processes. If you are a student returning after withdrawal, please be sure to review our Returning Students webpage for specific information regarding your re-entry and visa requirements.

Late Arrivals

If you think you will need to arrive later than the start of instruction for Fall 2021, you will need to first contact your academic department to see what options are possible for you. Berkeley International Office (BIO) will work with students who face arrival difficulties for Fall 2021 to determine the best option for their specific circumstances, including advising on late arrivals, readmission and return after deferral/withdrawal, and how to receive updated I-20/DS-2019 documents. BIO will send an Arrival Survey to new students in early August to confirm arrival dates and arrival delays.

Admissions 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.

Withdrawal

Please note that students who are not enrolled in Fall 2021 are not eligible to enter or remain in the U.S. for Spring 2021 in F-1/J-1 status. You must contact Berkeley International Office regarding your cancellation/withdrawal for approval prior to withdrawal or cancellation. Please review the Registrar’s Cancellation/Withdrawal information regarding cancellation/withdrawal processes, impacts to your UC Berkeley admission, tuition/fees, and deadlines. If you intend to attend UC Berkeley in the future, BIO recommends consulting with your College adviser (undergrads) or your department (graduate) before taking any steps to cancel or withdraw. Continuing students who withdraw after the start of classes should also be sure to review BIO’s Returning Student information for steps to return again in F-1 or J-1 status.

I am a new student who will arrive late in Fall 2021 OR in a future semester. Will BIO issue me an updated I-20 or DS-2019?

BIO will be making mandatory adjustments to student I-20 and DS-2019 start dates based on your responses to our new student Fall 2021 Arrival survey which will be sent in early August 2021, once most students’ arrival dates are set. We will then begin making I-20/DS-2019 adjustments in mid-August. If you urgently need an updated I-20 for a visa interview appointment prior to that time, please contact us and include a copy of your visa appointment confirmation.

I transferred my I-20 to UC Berkeley for Fall 2020 or Spring 2021, but was not able to enter the U.S. at that time. What do I need to enter the U.S. in Fall 2021?

If you were originally issued a UC Berkeley transfer I-20 but BIO was unable to activate your I-20 since you were not physically present in the U.S., BIO was required by SEVIS to temporarily terminate the F-1 record and I-20. 

  • If you have been continuously enrolled remotely at UC Berkeley since your SEVIS record was transferred to UC Berkeley, you may be eligible to have your transferred SEVIS record and I-20 reactivated via SEVP data fix. Please follow the instructions for the SEVP data fix process that you received by email from seviscoordinator@berkeley.edu. Please email seviscoordinator@berkeley.edu if you have not received instructions or if you have any questions.

  • If you have not been continuously enrolled at UC Berkeley since your SEVIS record was transferred to UC Berkeley (for example, if you deferred your admission to UC Berkeley or took a semester off), it is no longer possible to reactivate your transferred SEVIS record. You must complete the Nonimmigrant Information Form (NIF) to request a new initial I-20.

Can I enroll online and study from outside the U.S. for Fall 2021?

The primary instructional mode for Fall 2021 is in-person instruction, with limited remote classes. All students should plan to be present on-campus for Fall 2021. BIO does not recommend building a plan in advance for fully remote instruction. However, if you face difficulties entering the U.S. for Fall 2021, you should be in contact with your academic department regarding your academic options. After you’ve determined an appropriate academic plan, please contact Berkeley International Office so that we can advise you regarding any adjustments that may be required to your I-20 or DS-2019.

Additionally, students who come from a U.S. sanctioned country (Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Ukraine - Crimea Region, Sudan, Syria) are not permitted to enroll remotely from abroad.

F-1 and J-1 Enrolled Students - General Questions

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

We are currently accepting all requests by email. The standard processing time for student requests is 5 business days (excluding weekends and holidays). Barring any technical issues, documents will be ready by 1 p.m. on the fifth business day. 

Our processing time begins on the date that we receive a fully completed request. Incomplete requests are not considered fully submitted until all required documents are received. Processing for requests received after 4 p.m. or on a weekend/holiday are counted as starting the next business day.

Can I receive my I-20 or DS-2019 electronically?

Yes! BIO is able to offer email distribution for all F-1 I-20s. New students can select the option to receive the I-20 by email via the NIF. Continuing students can find instructions for receiving the I-20 by email on all BIO Student Request forms. If you receive an electronic I-20, you must print out the I-20 and sign it by hand for it to be valid. 

The U.S. Department of State DOES NOT allow electronic signatures or distribution of J-1 DS-2019s.

BIO is aware that the F-1 Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has made allowances for issuance of electronic I-20 transmissions and has coordinated with both the Department of State and Customs and Border Protection to allow use of electronically signed or transmitted I-10s for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. USCIS still requires documentation of copies with a “wet” or handwritten signature.

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

Please note that you do not need an updated travel endorsement on your I-20/DS-2019 to leave the country. You will only need it to apply for a new visa should you need one and/or for your reentry into the U.S.

Here are your current options for obtaining an I-20/DS-2019 with a valid travel endorsement:

  • You may wait until the BIO office reopens. 

  • Express Mail or Email: You can submit a Replacement Document request to internationaloffice@berkeley.edu and BIO will send you a new I-20/DS-2019 with a new travel endorsement. The request will include instructions for requesting a scanned email copy (not available for J-1s) or an original signed I-20 via Express Mail shipping, which is required for all mailout. Please note that printing and mailing is only occurring twice a week during the shelter in place period.

My I-20 or DS-2019 is expiring, but I need more time to complete my degree. What should I do?

Please submit a Program Extension Request to extend your I-20 or DS-2019. 

If you have already applied for F-1 OPT employment or J-1 Academic Training OR if you are eligible to apply now, please contact a BIO adviser regarding your situation, so that we can determine your next steps.

If you are OUTSIDE of the U.S. (or you are departing the U.S. before the end of your grace period) and 1) you WILL NOT return to the U.S. and 2) you do NOT intend to apply for post-completion F-1 OPT employment or J-1 Academic Training: You can choose to allow your I-20 or DS-2019 to expire, but you will need to work with your academic department and advisers to be sure you can complete your requirements from abroad.

My I-20 or DS-2019 is expiring and I can’t leave the U.S. due to flight issues. What can I do?

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 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 you to determine the best path forward.  Some options include:

  • Consider applying for post-completion employment: F-1 OPT employment or J-1 Academic Training.  

  • Consider continuing your academic degree program if further enrollment is appropriate for you in your degree program. If you think it would be better for you to continue your degree program at this time, please contact a BIO adviser regarding your situation, so that we can determine your next steps. 

  • Consider applying for a change of status through USCIS to that of a tourist (B1/B2) visa. The USCIS website contains instructions, checklists, and filing tips. If you need further guidance then you may consider hiring an attorney.

I will be outside of the U.S. for more than 5 months. Will I need a new visa? Will I have any problems re-entering the U.S. again as a student?

The current DHS guidance allows active students to be outside of the U.S. for more than 5 months, and indicates that the visa stamp in your passport will remain valid as well. Additionally, F-1 active students outside of the U.S. will continue to accrue time towards their CPT or OPT requirements. Be sure to properly maintain your student visa status while abroad and have all required travel documents for re-entry (including a valid, unexpired visa) when you return.

Does the university and/or BIO have any financial resources available for international students who have been impacted financially by the pandemic?

BIO has concluded its Spring and Summer COVID-19 relief applications. Please see our Financial Aid webpage with more information about financial resources available to international students. If you are experiencing financial difficulty, please feel free to use our Virtual Advising to speak with an adviser about your situation. You may also find helpful resources listed on the Basic Needs Center's COVID-19 Living Guide.

Will changing my grading option to P/NP impact my student visa status?

Changing your grading option will not impact your F or J student status.   

F-1 and J-1 students are expected to remain enrolled in full-time units, or to apply and be approved for an authorized Reduced Course Load for Academic or Medical Reasons. Reductions in course load must be approved by your College and by the Berkeley International Office in advance of making any schedule changes.

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 a continuing graduate student on Filing Fee or In Absentia status. Is that OK?

BIO considers Filing Fee to be a normal registration status, and this is not impacted by the current guidance. Students on In Absentia are expected to remain enrolled in full-time units, or to apply and be approved for an authorized Reduced Course Load for Academic or Medical Reasons. Students applying for Filing Fee or In Absentia should consult with a BIO advisor in advance.

If I have departed the U.S., can I continue to work in an on-campus position as an F-1 or J-1 student?

Your travel outside of the U.S. will not impact your eligibility for F-1 or J-1 on-campus employment for visa purposes, and you should continue to follow all F-1/J-1 rules regarding on-campus employment. However, F and J students should check with their employing department and HR regarding remote work policies and procedures, as the university has restrictions on remote employment from abroad.

What will happen if 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 withdrew from UC Berkeley and now wish to return to my studies in the U.S. What are my options?

You can find detailed information regarding returning to studies in the U.S. on BIO’s Returning Students page. You will need to apply for readmission to your College (undergraduates) or your department (graduates). 

After readmission, all F-1/J-1 students must submit the Nonimmigrant Information Form (NIF). The NIF will allow you to submit a request for your F-1 or J-1 documents for return. You will need to determine if you will require a New SEVIS Record (F-1 or J-1 students) or SEVIS Reactivation (F-1 only).

New & Continuing Students (Summer 2021)

I am a new student and I plan to enter the U.S. for the Summer 2021 semester. How does the Summer 2021 enrollment model affect me?

If you entered or will enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status after March 9, 2020, you are subject to new student enrollment requirements and are not permitted to enroll in fully remote instruction. See BIO’s Spring 2021 enrollment guidance for new students, which applies to students enrolling and entering the U.S. in Spring or Summer 2021. Summer entry students must also be sure to maintain full-time summer enrollment that is not 100 percent remote instruction.

I am a Summer 2021 student and plan to enroll in online classes only from abroad. I will not enter the U.S. How does the Summer 2021 enrollment model affect me?

New students may enroll in fully online classes for the Summer semester from abroad, and do not need a valid F-1 visa or I-20 to begin studies online.

I am a new student who may be arriving late for Summer 2021, or I am considering deferring to a future semester. What are my options?

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 30 days of the start of classes date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019, you can provide this Arrival Letter. If you will be arriving more than 30 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 Admissionsto 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.

F-1/J-1 Post-Completion Employment

I am a NEW student. If I am not able to enter the U.S. for Fall 2021, will this impact my qualification for F-1 CPT (or internships), post-completion OPT, or J-1 Academic Training?

F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is used for internships during the degree program, and F-1 Optional Practical Training can be used for post-completion employment. J-1 Academic Training is used for internships during the degree and post-completion employment.

If you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your degree program in Fall 2021 or later, it could have an impact on your F-1 CPT or OPT employment eligibility, or impact the duration of J-1 Academic Training available. Please be advised that this information is based on current Department of Homeland Security guidance and current F-1/J-1 regulations, and is subject to change.

F-1 CPT or OPT Eligibility

To be eligible for F-1 CPT or OPT authorization, students must have been enrolled continuously for 1 academic year in Active F-1 status. (The only exception is that CPT is available to graduate students for whom internship is a degree requirement for all students in the program prior to completion of 1 academic year. No exception exists for OPT.) Current guidance has clarified that an F-1 student accrues eligibility for Practical Training only if they are in “Active” status in SEVIS. Prior to entry in the U.S., the I-20 and SEVIS record are in “Initial” status. The SEVIS record cannot be made “Active” “until after entry to the U.S. for the first time in F-1 status.

OPT Example: You are in a 1 year program from August 25, 2021May 13, 2022 (1 academic year = 2 semesters: Fall 2021 + Spring 2022). If you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your program for Fall 2021, BIO will be required to change your I-20 start date to January 2022, the start of Spring 2022, even if you enroll remotely from abroad. But, if you enter the U.S. in January 2022, your F-1 record will be Active for only 1 semester and you will NOT qualify for OPT.

CPT Example: You are in a 2 year program from August 26, 2020-May 13, 2022 (1 academic year = 2 semesters: Fall 2020 + Spring 2021). If you were unable to enter the U.S. to begin your program for Fall 2020, BIO was required to change your I-20 start date to January 2021 while you were enrolled  remotely. But, if you entered the U.S. in January 2021, your F-1 record was only be Active starting with the Spring 2021 semester and you will not qualify for CPT in Summer 2021. You would qualify for CPT starting only after the end of Fall 2021.

J-1 Academic Training

AT is available after completion of 1 semester in the U.S., unless the student has a degree requirement for internship for all students in the degree program. The amount of AT granted is either 18 months OR the length of the J-1 program in the U.S., whichever is less.

AT example 2 year program: You are in a 1 year program from August 25, 2021–May 13, 2022 (1 academic year = 2 semesters: Fall 2021 + Spring 2022). If you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your program for Fall 2021, BIO will be required to change your DS-2019 start date to January 2022, the start of Spring 2022, even if you enroll remotely from abroad. But, if you enter the U.S. in January 2022, your J-1 record will be Active for only 1 semester and you would only have 4 available months of J-1 Academic Training.

AT example 2 year program:  You are in a 2 year program from August 26, 2020-May 13, 2022 (1 academic year = 2 semesters: Fall 2020 + Spring 2021). If you were unable to enter the U.S. to begin your program for Fall 2020, BIO was required to change your DS-2019 start date to yoru semester of entry. If you entered the U.S. in January 2021 for Spring 2021, you can qualify for 13 months of total Academic Training.

I am a CONTINUING student with an ACTIVE F-1 or J-1 record. Does attending classes remotely impact my eligibility for F-1 CPT or OPT/STEM or J-1 AT?

As of Fall 2020, the guidance indicates if you are a continuing F-1 or J-1 student in Active F-1/J-1 status, then any current remote instruction semester time is counted towards your qualifications for F-1 OPT or J-1 AT. Your OPT/CPT or AT qualification period began at the start of your I-20/DS-2019, when you first entered the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status.

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

Current DHS guidance allows remote work from abroad, so long as your employer is a U.S.-based entity. 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. Current guidance DOES allow less-than-full-time employment (meaning less than 20 hours per week) if the change is due to the COVID-19 emergency.

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. You cannot submit your OPT application to USCIS while you are abroad. 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 who applied for OPT or STEM OPT during Fall 2020 or Spring 2021. Is USCIS offering any flexibility related to OPT or STEM OPT processing delays?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently been experiencing serious delays in processing and receipting OPT applications filed by mail. USCIS announced on 2/26/2021 flexibilities for OPT applicants who may be affected by delayed receipt notices for the Form I-765, which is used for filing OPT./STEM OPT. These flexibilities applied only to applications received on or after October 1, 2020, through May 1, 2021.

From June 10 until Aug. 9, 2021 USCIS is allowing flexibilities to allow for refiling of applications filed by mail between Oct. 1, 2020, and April 1, 2021 which were rejected due to a filing fee payment that expired while the benefit request was awaiting processing.

Has anything else changed with regard to OPT processes in light of COVID-19? What if I cannot find an employer within 90 days of the start date of my OPT?

Please be advised that this information is based on current Department of Homeland Security guidance and current F-1/J-1 regulations, and is subject to change. There have been no changes to the application process for OPT or to OPT itself. We have not received any guidance regarding the possibility of extending the period of time when someone is not engaged in employment while under OPT or OPT STEM Extensions. Current guidance DOES allow less-than-full-time employment (meaning less than 20 hours per week) if the change is due to the COVID-19 emergency.

Please continue to check the USCIS website for updates or visit the USCIS COVID-19 response page regarding any changes to USCIS processing of requests. See the BIO OPT webpage and tutorial for information regarding unemployment, what can be considered “employment” during the OPT period — including unpaid internships or volunteer work.

If you are still finishing your degree and have concerns about your post-completion employment, you could also consider continuing your academic degree program, if further enrollment is appropriate for you in your degree program at this time. If you think it would be better for you to continue your degree program at this time, rather than continue with your OPT application, please contact a BIO adviser regarding your situation, so that we can determine your next steps.

BIO will continue to process all requests for OPT within a 3 day processing time, and we are doing our best to have these documents mailed out within a week.

I am on F-1 OPT or OPT STEM Extension and I am working remotely. Is that OK? Do I need to report my remote work?

Remote work is OK. DHS has indicated that you DO NOT need to update the employer address information in SEVIS nor on the Form I-983 for students working remotely. Students on OPT should be sure that the work continues to meet OPT requirements or STEM requirements for eligible employment. Make sure to continue to report any OPT/STEM  changes in living address, employment, or unemployment via the SSU Hub.

I am on F-1 OPT or STEM OPT Extension and I have been furloughed or laid off. What’s the difference? How does this impact my OPT or STEM Extension unemployment days?

Furlough, leave of absence, laid-off and termination have different meanings. You should confirm in writing with your employer exactly what your employment status is. 

A furlough or paid or unpaid approved leave of absence may still be considered employment for OPT/STEM OPT purposes. F-1 regulations allow for “time off taken consistent with leave-related policies applicable to the employer's similarly situated U.S. workers in the area of employment.” If this is your situation, request documentation form your employer (usually your supervisor or HR) confirming that your period of furlough or official leave of absence.

A termination or lay-off would be an ending of the employment, and would result in the beginning of days of OPT or STEM OPT unemployment. You’ll need to report your employer end date via the SSU Hub.

I am on F-1 OPT or STEM OPT Extension and I have been furloughed or laid off. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

BIO is unable to answer questions about eligibility for unemployment benefits. There is information here about state unemployment programs. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has confirmed that unemployment benefits are not considered “public benefits” that would violate the public charge rule. However, it is unclear whether use of unemployment benefits could make a student likely to seen as someone who could become a public charge in the future. Being seen as a potential public charge could negatively impact applications for future visas or immigration benefits.

I am a J-1 student and my Academic Training employment has been terminated due to COVID-19. What can I do?

Please contact BIO as soon as possible so that we can advise you on your available options.

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 following campus guidance. During this period we continue to process cases remotely and departments can continue to submit cases as usual.

Our department is inviting a J-1 scholar who is currently overseas to join our department. When will they be able to start?

Determining a feasible start date for a new J-1 visitor is currently complex and several factors should be considered:

  • U.S. travel restrictions affecting travelers from certain countries are still in effect. See the "General" FAQ section for more information about current travel restrictions.

  • Effective July 14, 2020, the U.S. Department of State announced a phased reopening of regular visa services, including J-1 scholar visas. However, operations may vary by post and we anticipate there may be backlogs and delays upon resumption of services.

  • The U.S. Department of State has provided guidance that the programs for newly arriving J-1 Exchange Visitors should include an on-campus component. If the hosting department's operations do not currently allow for on-campus activities, the visit should be delayed until an on-campus component is feasible.

If you have questions about a feasible start date for your visitor, please email jscholar@berkeley.edu and we will work with you on a case-by-case basis.

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

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 email a Travel Signature Request Form with copies of your most recent DS-2019 and J-1 visa to jscholar@berkeley.edu at least 2-4 weeks before your departure from the U.S.

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. 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 am concerned that I will be unable to depart the U.S. due to flight cancelations or other issues outside of my control. What should I do?

Please email jscholar@berkeley.edu as soon as possible for guidance on your situation.

Resources

Entry Letter Regarding Summer 2021 and Fall 2021 Instructional Models

BIO has made available an entry letter for Summer 2021 based on current DHS guidance for students who choose to enter for that term. Please review the Summer enrollment guidance for new students and continuing students so that you understand the risks to entry.

An entry letter for Fall 2021 is available for students entering beginning Fall 2021 and can be used to support your entry and visa application. Berkeley’s instructional model is primarily in-person, but it includes hybrid instruction as well. New students entering the U.S. for Fall 2021 should plan to be physically on-campus. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) provided updated guidance requires new or Initial F-1/J-1 students who began or will begin their program of study in the U.S. after March 9, 2020 to be enrolled in at least one course with in-person instructional mode as part of their full course of study.

Late Arrival: The Fall entry letter addresses late arrivals. Students arriving after the start of instruction for Fall 2021 will also need permission from their academic departments for late arrival. 

Enrollment confirmation: If you need to confirm your specific enrollment or degree program details, you can print your Cal Central enrollment and class schedule, request an official enrollment verification via Cal Central, or contact your academic department.

Webinar recording: Travel/Visa Updates and Q&A  - July 15, 2021

Please note that the information in the below video is subject to change. Watch for emails from the university and Berkeley International Office and monitor our COVID-19 FAQ webpage.

Travel/Visa Updates and Q&A Webinar - July 15, 2021