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.

This page was last updated on September 3, 2020.

FAQ sections:

General

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

New Students

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.?

See the BIO Coronavirus Policy Updates page for current travel policy announcements. When returning from international travel, follow CDC guidance and review UC Campus guidance on the UC Berkeley Coronavirus news site and the University Health Services COVID-19 Information page.

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 1) Brazil 2) United Kingdom* (excluding overseas territories outside of Europe) or Ireland* 3) 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), 4) Iran, or 5) 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 UK, Ireland, Schengen Area Travel Ban Exemption

The Department of State has announced a possible change in the Schengen, UK, and Ireland Travel Ban. Embassies have confirmed that students with F-1 visas do not require an approved national interest exception to be allowed to travel to the U.S. If you have a valid F-1 visa and valid I-20 form, you should be allowed to travel. Admission is subject to determination by Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry and you may be subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. BIO recommends downloading and carrying this Customs & Border Protection Guidance document.

Entry Suspensions for New Immigrants (Permanent Residents)

On Wednesday, April 22, 2020 the President issued a proclamation suspending the entry of certain new immigrants for 60 days. The proclamation ONLY impacts pending immigrant visa applications (applications for permanent residency) for persons who: were outside the U.S. on the effective date of the proclamation (04/23/2020); and who do not have an approved immigrant visa or some other already issued official travel document (such as an advance parole document). On June 22, 2020, the April 22, 2020 proclamation was extended to December 31, 2020.

Mexico & Canada Travel Restrictions

Travel restrictions are currently in effect through September 21, 2020 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.

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

On July 14, 2020, the Department of State announced it will implement a phased resumption of visa services, including F-1 and J-1 student 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 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.

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?

Effective March 5, UCOP has directed the UC community to avoid all non-essential international travel. UC Berkeley faculty, staff or students considering essential university-related travel (i.e. for field research) should consult the UC Berkeley Coronavirus Travel page for current travel policy announcements and restrictions. 

More information about essential university-related international travel can also be found on the Global Engagement Office's Travel Information page, and specific questions can be directed to geo@berkeley.edu.

Please also consult your Berkeley International Office advisor to ensure 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 the Shelter in Place order impacting Berkeley and surrounding areas?

You can review the 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.

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

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

Should you make the decision to enter the U.S. for the fall semester, we are providing you with a supporting letter to help facilitate the application process for a visa should you need one, and for your entry into the U.S. Please present the attached letter with your I-20 or DS-2019 when you are applying for a visa and/or when you are traveling to the U.S. and being screened by a Customs and Border Patrol Officer either at the point of departure or entry into the U.S. While this letter does not guarantee an approval of a visa or entry to the U.S., we are providing it to you as an added measure of support. You may wish to print a copy for both the visa application process as well as for your entry into the U.S. You may also consider printing the linked resources in the letter regarding recent government updates.

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.

I am a new student. Do I need an updated I-20 to apply for a visa and/or enter the U.S. for hybrid instruction?

On July 24th, SEVP updated their guidance informing schools that updated I-20s are no longer needed when applying for an F-1 visa or when entering the U.S.

I am a continuing student. Do I need an updated new I-20 to apply for a visa and/or enter the U.S. for hybrid instruction?

On July 24th, SEVP updated their guidance informing schools that updated I-20s are no longer needed when applying for an F-1 visa or when entering the U.S. Be sure that you have all of the necessary documents re-enter the U.S or apply for a new visa if your current F-1/J-1 visa stamp has expired. If your I-20 travel endorsement has expired, 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.

Can I enroll online and study from outside the U.S.? Do I need a valid I-20/DS-2019 to study online from outside the U.S.?

New or continuing students are free to enroll from abroad and study online! You do not need a valid I-20/DS-2019 or a valid visa to study from outside the U.S. You are free to enroll and study online from anywhere in the world. 

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.

How will UC Berkeley's plan for Fall 2020 instruction affect my visa status as a continuing student?

As a continuing F-1 or J-1 student, you can enroll in classes that are all online, all in-person or a combination of in-person and online classes. Continuing students who are outside the U.S. and plan to enroll in online classes should maintain a full course of study to retain their F-1or J-1 status and to remain in Active SEVIS status. The current DHS guidance allows continuing Active students to be outside of the U.S. for more than 5 months. Additionally, Active students outside of the U.S. will continue to accrue time towards their CPT or OPT requirements. 

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.

I am an F-1 or J-1 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?

We are currently accepting all requests. 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 doing our best to ensure that documents are ready for mailout within one week. Your document request will be delayed if it is incomplete or requires additional follow-up. While our physical office is closed, students can choose documents to be delivered electronically (F-1 only), mailed out via FedEx express mail, or to be filed for pick-up after our office reopens. Mailings are scheduled to occur each Tuesday and Thursday, but this is subject to change.  

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

Yes! BIO is able to offer distribution of I-20s for all continuing F-1 documents, except for new Initial (NIF) student documents. (If your new Initial I-20 needs an adjustment or replacement, we can send any additional updated I-20 documents electronically.) You can find instructions on all BIO Student Request forms

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 into the summer 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 continuing 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 temporarily attending classes online impact my student visa status as a continuing student?

No, the temporary change to remote instruction will not impact your 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. 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.

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 regarding remote work policies and procedures.

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.

New Students

I am a new student who is not in the U.S. and I plan to travel to the U.S. for the fall semester to enroll. How does the Fall 2020 enrollment model affect me?

On Friday, July 24th, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued new guidance to universities for new international students (including transfer students) who are currently outside the U.S. The guidance relates to entry into the U.S. and enrollment in in-person and online courses for the Fall 2020 semester. On the basis of this guidance, and in light of possible consequences to your F-1 nonimmigrant status, the Berkeley International Office provided all new students with important updated instructions and information for students who are beginning their academic degree program as it relates to their intention to enter the U.S. and enroll in classes for the Fall 2020 semester at UC Berkeley. Please review the link above for detailed instructions and information.

I am a new student and plan to enroll in online classes only from abroad. I will not enter the U.S. How does the Fall 2020 enrollment model affect me?

New students may enroll in fully online classes for the fall semester from abroad, and do not need a valid F-1 visa or I-20 to begin studies online. BIO will provide you with instructions on how to obtain a new updated I-20 when you are ready to come to the U.S. for your semester of entry. Since you will not enter the US for the Fall 2020 semester, you will not be in F-1 Active SEVIS status and will not accrue physical presence as it relates to your F-1 or J-1 status. This means that you will not begin accruing time towards the 1 academic year required for F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) internship authorization, or F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) post-completion employment. 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 currently exists for OPT.)

I am a new student who is not transferring to UC Berkeley or changing level. I have already used my I-20 to enter the U.S. for Fall 2020. How does the Fall 2020 enrollment model affect me?

On Friday, July 24th, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued new guidance to universities for new international students who are currently outside the U.S. The guidance relates to entry into the U.S. and enrollment in in-person and online courses for the Fall 2020 semester. On the basis of this guidance, and in light of possible consequences to your F-1 nonimmigrant status, the Berkeley International Office provided all new students with important updated instructions and information as it relates to their intention to enter the U.S. and enroll in classes for the Fall 2020 semester at UC Berkeley. Please review the link above for detailed instructions and information as it also applies to you as well, and you may wish to consider if you wish to remain in the U.S.

I am a new student who is either transferring, changing levels or changing status to be a student at Berkeley. How does the Fall 2020 enrollment model affect me?

USCIS Change of Status Students: F-1 students who were in the U.S. as of March 9, 2020 and are undergoing an F-1 Change of Level or who are in the U.S. and have applied for a USCIS Change of Status to F-1 will be treated as continuing students (see "How will UC Berkeley's plan for Fall 2020 instruction affect my visa status as a continuing student?") and may engage in fully online instruction if needed.

Change of Status via Travel: If you are applying to change to F-1 via travel, you will need to depart the U.S., apply for an F-1 visa, and will need to re-enter to activate your F-1 status, which could be difficult and risky at this time. See "I am a new student who is not in the U.S. and plans to travel to the U.S. for the fall semester to enroll. How does this affect me?" about new students entering the U.S. for more information (for immigration purposes, the process of Change of Status via travel is the same as a new F-1 student attempting entry). 

Change of Level & Transfer Students: The current DHS guidance allows fully online instruction for new transfer or change of level students who were in the U.S. as of March 9, 2020 and will continue to remain in the U.S. to begin the Fall 2020 semester. New transfer or change of level students who have departed the U.S., and plan to re-enter again to begin Fall 2020 are subject to the in-person enrollment requirements listed above.

I am a new student outside of the U.S. How late can I enter for Fall 2020?

We recognize that individual students may face difficulty in making an entry to the U.S. prior to the official start of instruction. In acknowledgment of possible travel delays, UC Berkeley is accommodating students who will arrive up to 30 days after the start of instruction listed on the student’s form I-20 or DS-2019. If you will not be able to arrive within the first 30 days of the Fall semester, BIO will work with you to make appropriate adjustments to your I-20 or DS-2019 start date. 

Please follow CDC guidance and review UC Campus travel guidance on the UC Berkeley Coronavirus news site and the University Health Services COVID-19 Information page.

If I can’t enter the U.S. to begin my degree program in Fall 2020, 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.

Yes, if you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your degree program in Fall 2020, 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 26, 2020May 14, 2021 (1 academic year = 2 semesters: Fall 2020 + Spring 2021). If Fall 2020 instruction is all remote OR if you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your program for Fall 2020, BIO will be required to change your I-20 start date to January 2021, the start of Spring 2021. You are free to enroll remotely. But, after your entry to the U.S. in January 2021, 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 Fall 2020 instruction is all remote OR if you are unable to enter the US to begin your program for Fall 2020, BIO will be required to change your I-20 start date to January 2021, the start of Spring 2021. You are free to enroll remotely. But,  after your entry to the US in January 2021, your F-1 record will be Active for only 1 semester and you will not qualify for CPT in Summer 2020. 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 26, 2020-May 14, 2021 (1 academic year = 2 semesters: Fall 2020 + Spring 2021). If Fall 2020 instruction is all remote OR if you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your program for Fall 2020, BIO will be required to change your DS-2019 start date to January 2021, the start of Spring 2021. You are free to enroll remotely. But, after your entry to the U.S. in January 2021, 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 Fall 2020 instruction is all remote OR if you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your program for Fall 2020, BIO will be required to change your DS-2019 start date to January 2021, the start of Spring 2021. You are free to enroll remotely. You can qualify for 13 months of total Academic Training.

I am a new student who will arrive late in Fall 2020 OR in a future semester. Will BIO issue me an updated I-20/DS-2019?

BIO is making adjustments to student I-20s/DS-2019 start dates based on your responses to our mandatory Fall 2020 New Student Survey. If the information you provided in your survey is no longer accurate, or your I-20 adjustment does not reflect your plans for entry, please contact us. If you urgently need an updated I-20 for a visa interview or entry into the US, please contact us.

Late Arrival in Fall

Regardless of when you arrive in fall, please carry this letter with you. If you are planning to arrive for Fall 2020, you can arrive up to 30 days after the start of fall instruction with the I-20/DS-2019 that BIO already issued you. You do not need a new I-20/DS-2019 to do this.

If you will arrive more than 30 days after the start of instruction, BIO will update your I-20/DS-2019 start date to a later date in the fall semester. We will choose an appropriate new start date based on the information you provided to us when completing our Fall 2020 New Student Survey. All I-20s/DS-2019s will be updated by September 25 at the latest. It may take an additional week or so for you to receive your new document.

Arrival in Future Semester

If you will arrive in a future semester, BIO will adjust your I-20/DS-2019 start date based on information you provided to us when completing our Fall 2020 New Student Survey. All I-20s/DS-2019s will be updated by September 25 at the latest. It may take an additional week or so for you to receive your new document.

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.

F-1/J-1 Post-Completion Employment

I am a NEW student. If I can’t enter the U.S. to begin my new degree program in Fall 2020, 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.

Yes, if you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your degree program in Fall 2020, 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 26, 2020May 14, 2021 (1 academic year = 2 semesters: Fall 2020 + Spring 2021). If Fall 2020 instruction is all remote OR if you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your program for Fall 2020, BIO will be required to change your I-20 start date to January 2021, the start of Spring 2021. You are free to enroll remotely. But, after your entry to the U.S. in January 2021, 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 Fall 2020 instruction is all remote OR if you are unable to enter the US to begin your program for Fall 2020, BIO will be required to change your I-20 start date to January 2021, the start of Spring 2021. You are free to enroll remotely. But,  after your entry to the US in January 2021, your F-1 record will be Active for only 1 semester and you will not qualify for CPT in Summer 2020. 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 26, 2020-May 14, 2021 (1 academic year = 2 semesters: Fall 2020 + Spring 2021). If Fall 2020 instruction is all remote OR if you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your program for Fall 2020, BIO will be required to change your DS-2019 start date to January 2021, the start of Spring 2021. You are free to enroll remotely. But, after your entry to the U.S. in January 2021, 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 Fall 2020 instruction is all remote OR if you are unable to enter the U.S. to begin your program for Fall 2020, BIO will be required to change your DS-2019 start date to January 2021, the start of Spring 2021. You are free to enroll remotely. 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?

No, if you have entered the U.S. and 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.

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. 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. Please contact BIO as soon as possible for advising, which might include planning to extend your program of study.

Has anything 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 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 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 guidanceDuring this period we continue to process cases remotely and departments can continue to submit cases as usual.

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 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.

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. If you have questions about dates for your prospective visitor, please email jscholar@berkeley.edu.

Are there any current travel restrictions for Permanent Residents?

On Wednesday, April 22, 2020 the President issued a proclamation suspending the entry of certain new immigrants for 60 days. Nonimmigrant visa holders including F-1 students, J-1 Exchange Visitors, H-1B, TN and O-1 workers are NOT impacted. The proclamation DOES NOT impact F-1 or J-1 Student employment options.

The proclamation DOES NOT affect U.S. green card holders, spouses and children of U.S. citizens, and EB-5 investor immigrants all of whom are exempt from the order, which is set to take effect at 11:59pm on April 23, 2020. Applications for permanent residence filed in the U.S. (adjustment of status applications) are also not affected. The proclamation ONLY impacts pending immigrant visa applications (applications for permanent residency) for persons who: were outside the U.S. on the effective date of the proclamation (04/23/2020); and who do not have an approved immigrant visa or some other already issued official travel document (such as an advance parole document).

Resources

Entry Letter Regarding Fall Instructional Model

On July 24th, SEVP updated their guidance informing schools that letters of support are no longer needed when applying for an F-1 visa or when entering the U.S. If the embassy still insists on a letter, you may present the attached letter with your I-20 or DS-2019 when you are applying for a visa and/or when you are traveling to the U.S. and being screened by a Customs and Border Patrol Officer either at the point of departure or entry into the U.S.

COVID-19 Resource List

University of California and other local resources

Government resources