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ISC COVID-19 FAQ for Fall Semester 2020

On Friday, July 24, I sent you a quick overview of the new guidance that SEVP/ICE released.  We understand that there is uncertainty around travel restrictions and visas and we hope that the FAQ’s below will help answer some of your questions.  We encourage you to attend the Town Hall tomorrow and submit your questions ahead of time. If you can't make it due to time zone concerns, please sign up anyway so you can get the recording.  Please keep in mind that SEVP and the Governor of Pennsylvania may release further guidance regarding the fall term which may require us to reconsider our plans and policies. We will keep you updated as quickly as possible. 

All Students

Will I be able to study online from my home country/a different country if I cannot come to campus for the fall?

Yes, SEVP’s guidance allows continuing students to study remotely from their home to stay in Active SEVIS status. Students in initial status (first-year students and students returning from a leave of absence longer than 5 months) will be able to study from abroad, but they would not be in Active SEVIS status. This is because F-1 status is conferred upon arrival into the United States.  An F-1 visa and F-1 status are used to define and maintain student activities within the US - but it does not preclude a student from studying at Swarthmore from abroad.

What restrictions are there on the courses I can take? Can I take a full course load of online courses?

Continuing students may take 100% of their coursework remotely and may do so from within the United States or their home country, and remain in active SEVIS status. Students in initial status (first-year students and students returning from a leave of absence longer than 5 months) will need to take at least one hybrid/in-person class if they are studying while in the United States. All students must continue to carry a full course load.

Will international students have to leave the U.S. after thanksgiving break due to a change in modality of instruction?

Students may be able to stay on campus beyond Thanksgiving but students must request approval from OSE. Since the break is over three months long, we encourage students to return home if borders are open and you have a valid visa to return.

Do I need to Quarantine?

Please check  CDC recommendation and  Pennsylvania Department of Health.

If I can’t make it to campus in the Fall, how will this affect my health insurance?

The Swarthmore College policy regarding mandatory enrollment in the student health insurance plan for all international students will continue for the academic year 2020-2021.  For more specific questions related to health insurance, please email  Mary Jane Palma at mpalma1@swarthmore.edu

I want to come to campus but am unable to due to current travel restrictions or the suspension of visa processing. If restrictions are lifted in October or November - can I come to campus when restrictions are lifted or do I have to wait until the Spring semester?

If students cannot make it to campus by Sunday, October 4th they should wait until the spring semester to join us on campus.  Please contact Jennifer and OSE for more information.

Will my SEVIS status be terminated if I decide to take a gap year?

Yes. Students who are taking a leave of absence (not enrolled at Swarthmore) would have their SEVIS record terminated. Please note that termination would be based on an “authorized early withdrawal” which indicates that the termination was made for procedural reasons and was not due to a violation.

I’m not sure about whether I want to come to campus for the fall. What is the process for letting Swarthmore know that I do not plan to be on campus?

You should contact Dean Derickson  https://www.swarthmore.edu/profile/liz-derickson-01 review, https://www.swarthmore.edu/office-academic-success/taking-time and the ISC office to let us know your plans.

Returning Students

When can I move back to campus? What are the implications?

Students should consult with the move-in schedule with OSE and make sure they have the appropriate date/time before purchasing plane tickets. OSE will provide further information. Students should also fill out this form to let ISC know when they will be returning to campus. It is also recommended you purchase travel insurance in case flights are canceled, move-in times change, or travel restrictions are imposed.

I have concerns about travel bans that would prevent my arrival on campus. Is there any possibility I would be able to arrive earlier on campus in order to avoid them?

No.

Can I move back to campus even if all the courses I have registered for are taught remotely?

Yes.

Can I study remotely (but be physically in the United States) but live off-campus? Will my SEVIS status be affected if I live off-campus?

SEVIS status is not contingent on living on campus. Currently, students living off-campus may not visit or come to campus. 

I went home in the spring semester 2020 and will have been out of the country for more than 5 months. What does that mean for my F-1 status?

Students who continued their courses online from their home country were able to remain in Active SEVIS status so the 5-month rule does not apply.

I’m a senior and I may not be able to come back to campus - how will this affect my ability to apply for post-completion OPT?

Seniors (as long as they are not in initial status) will be eligible to apply for OPT if they are in the United States for their final semester. USCIS does not currently accept OPT applications from students who are abroad.

I am considering taking a leave of absence, how will this affect my F-1 status?

Your SEVIS record would be terminated as an “authorized early withdrawal”. If you will be away from the United States longer than 5 months, you will need a new I-20 issuance which means submitting financial documentation for review. Please note that this will affect your ability to apply for OPT as a new initial I-20 means restarting the clock for time-related F-1 benefits. Students will need to wait to complete a full academic year of study before they are able to apply for OPT.

First Year Students

Students should email Jennifer and Ryan with their visa appointment dates and any updates to their visa so that they can ensure they have the correct documentation for their appointment.

I am in my first year and unable to come to campus and would like to study online from my home country. What does not being in “active SEVIS status” mean? What are the implications? Will my visa be canceled?

Students will still be able to study remotely with Swarthmore during the Fall semester, but they will be doing so without active SEVIS status. If a student is planning to join us on campus in the Spring, we will defer your I-20 to reflect the spring start date. This will allow you to apply for a visa to begin in the spring term. If the student is not in Active SEVIS status, they would not have access to the benefits of F-1 status. If you have already received your visa for fall it will be valid for spring.

I will be on campus for the Fall, what restrictions are there for classes?

First-year students in initial SEVIS status who will be physically in the United States for the Fall semester should plan to have at least one in-person/hybrid class.

Can I move into campus earlier than the start date?

No. Please contact the OSE for more information. https://www.swarthmore.edu/living-swarthmore

How do I let ISC know which date I’m arriving on campus?

OSE will be collecting and sharing, but feel free to send us your itinerary.

Can I ship my belongings or online shopping to the campus?

Students can send packages to campus 2 weeks ahead of their arrival. You should address your package in this format: 

Your Name

Class of 2024

Swarthmore College 

500 College Ave 

Swarthmore PA 19081

USA

 

How can I access the packages I sent to campus or the packages from online shopping on Move-In Day?

Our mailroom will announce hours and methods of pick up. You may send packages 2 weeks ahead of time before classes begin.

I’m considering deferring my enrollment. What should I do? How does this affect my I-20?

If you are considering deferring your decision please contact Dean Jim Bock jbock1@swarthmore.edu  If you defer your enrollment to February, your I-20 will also be deferred. Please request an updated i-20. If you plan to attend next fall, 2021, please contact us in May or June of 2021.

How will deferring affect my graduation date?

It is important to be aware that your graduation date will most likely change if you defer. For more specific questions about curricular sequencing, please talk to your academic advisor.

When will orientation begin?

Orientation will begin the 17th of August. Please fill out this form to let us know when you will be available.

 

Travel Ban Update

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/national-inte...

If you have any questions or concerns that were not answered in this document, please reach out to Jennifer or Ryan. Jgold12@Swarthmore.edu or Rmacmor1@Swarthmore.edu

SEVP Guidance Toolkit

SEVP issued further guidance for the Fall semester on July 24, 2020. Based on the newest guidance, (and we acknowledge that further updates could be issued, so please know that similarly we might have to adjust our advising), we know that: 

Decisions on whether initial students will be eligible to come to the United States will be determined by the Department of State at the visa appointment. Students who are applying for a visa should contact Jennifer and Ryan with their appointment date so that we can ensure you have all the correct documentation. 

All students will be able to remain in the United States and continue their studies even if a change in instructional modality to 100% remote instruction occurs during any part of the fall semester. 

This table shows our current understanding of some core issues related to the Fall SEVP guidance.

Students in initial status are students in their first year or returning from more than 5 months away from study. Continuing students are students who were enrolled in Swarthmore in Spring 2020. 

 

 

Students in initial status studying remotely outside the United States

Students in initial status studying inside the United States

Continuing students studying outside the United States

Continuing students studying inside the United States

Students taking a leave of absence (LOA) for the fall semester 

SEVIS Status 

Students would have an I-20 in initial status but they would not be in Active SEVIS status.

Once the first SEVIS registration period has been completed, students’ SEVIS status would become Active given that they are taking one or more hybrid classes.

Continuing students can take 100% of their courses online from home and remain in Active SEVIS status. 

Continuing students can take 100% of their courses online while in the United States and remain in Active SEVIS status. 

  • Students taking a break (LOA) from studying in the fall will have their SEVIS records terminated. The termination reason used will be “authorized early withdrawal” which indicates to SEVP that the termination was for a procedural reason and not due to a violation.

I-20

I-20 program start dates will be deferred to  February for the spring semester. Students will be issued a new I-20 before entry for the spring semester. Please be in contact with the ISC 90 days before you return.

No change to I-20.

Students I-20’s will be updated with a notation, that they are currently outside of the United States due to COVID. (This notation will be added in SEVIS just for our records). 

No change to I-20. Make sure your I-20 is signed for travel within 12 months on page 2.

You will need a new I-20 before returning. Please be in contact with the ISC 90 days before you return.

Academics 

Students should still plan to register for a full course load of credits. 

Students must carry a full course load (3 classes) and must have at least one course in hybrid/in-person mode.  

Students must carry a full course load (3 classes) and 100% of their classes can be online. 

Students must carry a full course load (3 classes) and 100% of their classes can be online. 

 

Implications

Because students would not be in F-1 status, they may not have work authorization to work on-campus jobs. 

 

First year students studying with Swarthmore from home should still plan to participate in International Orientation (TBA) 

Travel restrictions and lack of availability of flights can make returning home (as well as re-entry to the United States when you want to return) expensive and there may be travel restrictions in your home country against travelers coming from the United States. 

As students would remain in Active status the 5 month rule* would not apply. Students who plan to apply for OPT for the summer should plan to be in the United States for the spring semester as USCIS does not allow students to apply for OPT from abroad. 

Travel restrictions and lack of availability of flights can make returning home (as well as re-entry to the United States when you want to return) expensive and there may be travel restrictions in your home country against travelers coming from the United States. 

Students who would be taking a leave of absence would be subject to the 5 month rule. The clock starts upon the date of termination in SEVIS. The ISC office will not terminate a student's records until we have received confirmation of the students’ decision. Students cannot stay in the United States during their leave.

Visa

Students’ SEVIS number would remain the same and they could use their initial status I-20 to apply for a visa to come for the Spring. 

 

Currently, an F-1 visa is not invalidated or lost by studying from your home country. 

It is not possible to renew or apply for a visa from within the United States. It is okay to be in the United States on an expired visa, but you will not be able to re-enter without a valid visa.

Students in terminated status may need to reapply for a visa if the 5 month rule applies* or if your visa expires.

 

* 5 Month Rule: Students who are out of active status for less than 5 months can apply to have their SEVIS record reactivated (please note that reactivation is not guaranteed) - if more than 5 months, students must apply for a new I-20 and their new SEVIS record would be in Initial Status. The length of time in terminated status can affect your timeline for OPT application. Students in initial status must complete a full academic year of study before they can apply for OPT. The clock that calculates time out of status would start on the date of termination. Reactivation requests can be submitted to SEVP up to 60 days prior to the start date of the next semester that a student can begin. Swarthmore’s  spring semester start date is February 15.  Students should contact ISC in mid-December if they are eligible for reactivation. 

 

A leave of absence is not the same as a deferral. Only continuing students are eligible for a leave of absence. First year students are eligible to request a one semester or full academic year deferral. They must request a deferral by emailing Jim Bock at jbock1@swarthmore.edu . First year students deferring for one semester will have their I-20s reissued with a new program start date for the Spring semester. This would allow students to keep their SEVIS number and apply for a visa for the spring semester.  Please contact Jennifer or Ryan in May/June 2021,  if you decide on a full year deferral for more information.