Immigration Regulations and COVID-19

*Update for Academic Year 2021-22

Goucher College is committed to reopening its campus for an in-person, residential experience for undergraduate students this Fall 2021 academic semester, to the extent that public health permits. We encourage you to reference Goucher College’s Return to Campus page to find updates and to read about Goucher’s plans for reopening this Fall. The Office of Global Education continues to monitor and review immigration updates in relation to the pandemic that pertain to the Fall semester.

STUDENTS UNABLE TO RETURN TO THE U.S.

I am unable to return to the U.S.  Can I continue taking my classes remotely?

Students who are seeking this exception must communicate their individual situation and their desired courses to Karen Sykes, the Associate Director of the Office of Global Education as soon as they determine the need to continue studying remotely.

The Associate Director of the Office of Global Education will send the request to the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs, who will consult with the affected faculty members to determine if the request can be approved.  If the request is approved, you will register for classes; if the request is not approved, the Associate Director will assist you in finding other more suitable classes.

If you become able to travel to campus at any point during the semester, you may do so after consulting the associate director of the Office of Global Education, who will confirm eligibility for re-entry and assist in coordinating campus logistics.

I have been taking all my classes online from my home country for the past year and may do so Fall 2021 as well.  Will this impact my F-1 status?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that the previous guidance issued in March 2020 will remain in effect for the 2021-22 academic year.  This guidance made it clear that your SEVIS record could remain active while engaging in a full course of study from outside the U.S. due to the pandemic.  

Please note that, since SEVIS records will remain active, students will NOT need to start a new SEVIS record and pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.  In addition, any time that students accrue in F-1 status towards work eligibility will remain.  Students who have already been in status for at least one academic year will be able to apply for Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training upon their return to the U.S.

When you are ready to return to the U.S., we will send a new Form I-20 with a travel signature.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL FOR CONTINUING AND NEW STUDENTS

Is travel advisable from an immigration perspective?

The Office of Global Education cannot advise you whether to continue to stay in your home country or come back to the U.S. for the Fall semester; this is a decision for you to make with your support system.  However, we can advise you of the obstacles you may face in attempting to return to the U.S.  Please consider the following factors:

  • Risks involved in international travel
  • Validity of your F-1 visa and the operational status of the embassy/consulates in your country
  • Navigating travel suspensions and national interest exemptions
  • Reduced flights and the related expense
  • Quarantine protocol upon arrival (See the Return to Campus Student Information site for further information.)
  • Status of vaccine distribution

When can I apply for my F-1 visa? 

While the Department of State suspended routine visa services at all U.S. embassies and consulates in March 2020, some are currently processing student visas and additional openings are anticipated.  Actual service availability and dates will depend on local conditions, so visa applicants should monitor the website of the intended embassy or consulate.   You can find embassy or consulate websites here and visa interview wait times here.  The Office of Global Education encourages you to schedule your visa appointment as soon as possible due to anticipated backlogs and delays.

Will I have to go for an interview if I am just applying for a renewal of my visa?

For those who are applying for a renewal of their F-1 visa, the Department of State has temporarily expanded the ability of consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals whose nonimmigrant visa expired within the past 48 months.  Students are encouraged to review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to determine eligibility and related instructions on applying for a visa without an interview. 

I am from Canada or Mexico.  Are there restrictions in place that will prevent my return to the U.S.?

The decision to temporarily limit entry to the United States through land ports along the U.S.-Canada and U.S.- Mexico borders for “essential travel” only continues. The restrictions have been extended until July 21, 2021.

International students in F-1 status are considered “essential visitors” and, thus, can travel across the land border.  Ports of entry may differ in their interpretation as to whether accompanying parents may also enter.  We recommend contacting the port of entry to inquire and record the officer’s contact information for future reference.

Travel by air is not impacted by these temporary restrictions.

Are there other travel restrictions in place for the Fall 2021?  

Due to the pandemic, there have been various proclamations banning the entry of non-U.S. citizens who were physically present in a number of countries with high rates of COVID-19 during the 14-day period preceding their entry to the U.S.  The suspension of entry applies to certain travelers from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, China, and Iran, South Africa and India.  These restrictions will remain in effect until terminated by the President.

On February 10, the Department of State announced the continuation of a National Interest Exception (NIE) for certain travelers from the Schengen area, United Kingdom and Ireland.  The NIE allows travelers in certain categories, such as F-1, to enter the US directly from the restricted country.  On April 27, the Department of State announced the expansion of a NIE to those coming from Brazil, China, Iran, and South Africa.  The April 30 proclamation included the provision of NIE for India as well.

Students with valid F-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program commencing August 1, 2021 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies. Students seeking to apply for new F-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.

What is the CDC guidance regarding international travel and testing/quarantine?  

Recommendations from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can be found here.  Current recommendations state that all air passengers coming to the United States are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States.  Students should get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before they travel. They must keep a copy of their test results with them during travel in case they are asked for them.

Upon arrival, vaccinated travelers must obtain a viral test 3-5 days after travle and self-monitor for any symptoms.  Unvaccinated travelers must get tested 3-5 days after travel AND self-quarantine for 7 days after travel.  Currently, Maryland does not have any further restrictions.  

If students are eligible, they should get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at least 2 weeks prior to travel as it takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination. 

How will students be able to receive their Form I-20?  

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, Department of State and Customs and Border Protection have all confirmed that they will accept a printout of an electronic version of a Form I-20 for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. 

Students planning to return to the U.S. should contact the Office of Global Education to discuss plans.  Once a new Form I-20 has been issued, signed for travel and scanned, it will be uploaded to the secure cloud storage solution, Box.  You will then receive an email through your Goucher account with a link and instructions on how to download your signed Form I-20.  The password will arrive in a second email.  You must then print the document, sign it and bring it with you when you travel. 

When should students arrive in the U.S.?  

New:  According to the current CDC recommendations regarding international travel, new, unvaccinated international students should arrive in the U.S. by August 13 to ensure in-person participation in the campus-wide orientation program from August 21 to 24. Vaccinated international students can arrive on August 17 to ensure participation in orientation activities.

InterConnect, the international student orientation program, will be held virtually from August 18 to 20 to ensure those studying remotely and in quartine can participate.  There may be some outdoor social time for those who have met the quarantine requirement. 

New and Continuing:  All international students should arrive in the U.S. on or before August 17 to ensure in-person participation in Goucher’s Opening Celebration and the first day of classes. 

We will continue to monitor CDC guidance and adapt campus plans accordingly.  Please contact the Karen Sykes for details on move-in dates, the potential for early arrival and quarantine procedures for international travelers closer to the time of your arrival. 

ALL INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS WHO WILL BE ON CAMPUS FOR THE FALL 2021

I will be in the U.S. for the Fall 2021; can I take a 100% online schedule?

Undergraduates:  No, Goucher College has changed its mode of instruction back to in-person, thus students who are in the U.S. must enroll and attend classes in person.  Exceptions will only be made available to international students unable to return to the U.S., those with medical accommodations through Office of Accessibility Services and those temporarily in quarantine.

Please note that both immigration regulations and Goucher policy (see the section entitled “Online Course Policy”) limit engagement in online/remote/distance learning courses.

Graduates:  While you may exceed the typical limits on online/hybrid courses enrollment, you should maintain in-person attendance for a minimum of 3 credits.

Will students need to be vaccinated?

Goucher College will be requiring that all undergraduate, as well as all graduate students who have any reason to come onto campus, need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to enrolling for the fall semester.  Goucher will accept the vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as those approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO).  Currently, the accepted vaccines include:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines (e.g., COMIRNATY, Tozinameran)
  • AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccines (e.g., Covishield, Vaxzevria)
  • Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine
  • Moderna COVID-19 vaccine
  • Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine
  • Sinovac vaccine

All students must submit proof of immunization information or exemption requests by Monday, July 12, 2021. Vaccination records can be uploaded to a student’s Medicat account. Failure to submit this information or an exemption request will result in your registration for the Fall 2021 being dropped.  Vaccinated students will be exempt from ongoing COVID surveillance testing this fall and will be able to adhere to the relaxed guidelines concerning face coverings for fully vaccinated individuals.

Students who are living abroad and are unable to obtain a vaccine prior to their return to campus may request an exemption prior to July 12.  Students granted exemptions will continue to be included in our weekly COVID surveillance testing program and will be required to always wear a face mask while on campus.

Upon arrival in the U.S., those who have been abroad are then able to obtain a vaccine in Maryland through the Baltimore County vaccination program or local pharmacies.  Once they are fully vaccinated and provide their vaccination record to their Medicat account, they may stop complying with surveillance testing and mask wearing.

Goucher will also require that students be vaccinated for the flu, once available.  More information will be distributed to students at the start of the fall semester.

Will students be able to move into the residence halls immediately upon arrival?

Once Goucher opens for the Fall semester, students who need to be quarantined will be able to stay temporarily in a separate isolation location before moving into their housing assignment. 

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS

Please contact the Associate Director of the Office of Global Education with questions about how the guidance applies to your personal situation.