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COVID-19 Information for F-1 Students

Updated July 26, 2020:

Fall 2020 Information

Please visit the New F-1 Students and Continuing F-1 Students pages to learn more about the options F-1 students have for the fall 2020 semester.

 

Additional COVID-19 Updates for F-1 Students

 
F-1 Employment

All winter 2020 workshop webinars have now passed.  There are no CPT and OPT webinars over the summer but you are able to view recorded versions of previous workshops at any time:

After viewing the appropriate webinar above, students who have additional questions about OPT & CPT processing should schedule an advising appointment with an International Student Advisor at http://bit.ly/nsuoissadvising.
  • If you are currently authorized for CPT and will remain in the U.S. and are able to continue in your CPT site, no changes are necessary.
  • If you are currently authorized for CPT but your CPT site has indicated that it is no longer possible for you to complete your CPT experience:
    • Communicate with your faculty about what this means for your academic program.  
    • Communicate with the Office of International Affairs so that we can end your CPT authorization.
  • If you are currently authorized for CPT but will leave the country:
    • If your CPT organization is permitting you to continue your work remotely, confirm with your faculty member that this transition will continue to meet the expectations of your program.  No changes will need to be made to your I-20 since you will remain active.
    • If it is not possible to continue in your work, notify your faculty member to determine what this means for your academic program and notify the Office of International Affairs so that we can end your CPT authorization.  

Reminder:  CPT authorization takes a minimum of seven business days to be processed by our office.  NEVER begin off-campus training/employment before receiving your updated I-20, endorsed for CPT.

As of May 18, 2020, there still has been very little guidance provided by SEVP or USCIS regarding modifications to the processing of I-765, OPT applications.

At this time we do not know if applications will be accepted from outside of the US, how applications that were already submitted will be seen if the student is outside of the US when the application is adjudicated (and hopefully approved), or if students attempting to re-enter the country with a pending or approved OPT will be permitted entry without a job offer.  All of these are currently unknown and the Office of International Affairs is not able to advise on how SEVP and/or USCIS will respond.

It is important that students recognize that prior to COVID-19 concerns, the Office of International Affairs strongly discouraged students from leaving the country while their OPT application was pending as we have reports of students being denied re-entry.  Additionally, Part 3, on page 4 of the Form I-765, reads "You must file Form I-765 while in the United States."  

Our best recommendation at this time remains that students who wish to file an OPT application should do so from within the United States and that they should ensure they return to the US before their program end date (last day of coursework).  

First, it is important to determine if you are being laid off or if you are being placed on a "temporary leave in accordance with your company's leave policies." In the first scenario, being laid off, this means that you do not have a job to come back to and will be asked to reapply.If you are placed on leave – whether paid or unpaid – this means that your workplace is temporarily suspending services, but will keep your position for you and expect you to return when the company reopens. If you are not sure, please ask this question directly of your boss or your HR office, as this is a very important distinction.

If you are being placed on leave in accordance with an official policy, then the days you are not working will not count as unemployment and will not count against your 90-day (150-day for STEM OPT) maximum period of unemployment. If you are being laid off, however, you are required to report this to the Office of International Affairs within 10 days of your last day of employment. Days after your last day of employment, until you obtain a new job, will count against your 90-day (or 150-day for STEM OPT) unemployment clock. 

Unfortunately, there has not been any guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security indicating that F-1 students will be permitted additional unemployment time on OPT/STEM OPT.  As a reminder:

  • Students on OPT are limited to 90 days of unemployment, starting from the date listed on their EAD cards.   

  • Students who receive a 24-month STEM OPT Extension are allowed an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days over their entire post-completion OPT period (standard OPT + STEM).

  • Unemployment days are calculated based on the employment information a student enters in the SEVP Portal.  Students who are unable to access their SEVP Portal should contact intl@nova.edu for assistance.

At this time, students should assume that the 90 day/150 day limits are still in effect and that they will fall out of legal status and should leave the United States if they exceed more than the permitted unemployment time.  The Office of International Affairs is constantly monitoring guidance from the Department of Homeland Security and will update this question if changes are announced to these limits.

Employment for less than 20 hours per week:  SEVP has stated that "For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, SEVP considers students who are working in their OPT opportunities fewer than 20 hours a week as engaged in OPT." 

Students who are expected to exceed these limits and are unable to depart the country should file an I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status to request a Change of Status to B-2 (visitor) prior to falling out of status.  Although it is not ideal, students who do not file prior to falling out of status may still file the I-539 and request a nunc pro tunc approval (a backdated approval) and make a compelling argument that the failure to file on time was due to reasons out of their control. 

Nova Southeastern University’s Office of International Affairs is unable to assist with I-539 filings.  Students may wish to seek the assistance of a qualified immigration attorney, such as NSU’s external legal counsel, Fragomen.  Fragomen’s I-539 filing fee is $1,500.00. 

F-1 Student Travel Information

Making the decision to return home is a very personal one.  Before making the decision to return home, F-1 students should consider:

  • Personal and community health implications of travel
  • Resources available (in the US and in home country)
  • Availability of flights - are there flights into your country?  Will there be flights out of your country when it is time to return?
  • F-1 visa status - will you be able to return on an unexpired F-1 visa?
  • Quarantine requirements - is your country currently requiring that you go through a quarantine period upon your departure from the US?

Students should follow all recommendations listed on the NSU coronavirus website, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travel website, and from the World Health Organization.

Travel Documents 

  • Should you decide to travel WITHIN the United States, the only documentation required is a valid photo ID (note that F-1 students should always have a copy of their valid I-20 accessible).  
  • Should you decide to travel OUTSIDE of the United States, you must be prepared to show the following information to re-enter:
    •  Valid, unexpired passport
      • Note some limited exceptions exist to this rule.  See information on the "Six Months Club" for further details.
    • Valid, unexpired visa
    • Valid, unexpired I-20 with a travel signature on page two, dated within the past SIX MONTHS of when you plan to return to campus.

F-1 Visa 

Remember that your F-1 visa is required to be VALID (unexpired) any time you (re)enter the United States.  

  • If your current F-1 visa will expire in the near future, you should be aware that you will need to obtain a new, unexpired visa before you will have the opportunity to return to the U.S.

NOTE:  On March 20, 2020, travel.state.gov (U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Office) posted the following news alert:

  • "In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time."

First, please check your most recent travel signature.

  • Current F-1 Students (non-OPT): Although NSU typically recommends students obtain travel signatures every 6 months, each travel signature is actually valid for 12 months.  If you plan to re-enter the country less than one year after your most recent travel signature was provided, you do not require a new travel signature.
  • F-1 visa holders on OPT: Travel signatures for students on OPT are only valid for 6 months.  If you plan to re-enter the country less than six months after your most recent travel signature was provided, you do not require a new travel signature.

If you have determined you require a new travel signature, the Office of International Affairs will issue you a new I-20 with electronic signatures on the first and second page. You should keep your current I-20 and utilize the new I-20 with the electronic signature to re-enter the U.S.

To request an electronic I-20 submit the following information to intl@nova.edu at least seven business days prior to your travel:

  • Full name
  • NSU N#
  • SEVIS ID#
  • Date of most recent travel signature
  • Estimated travel dates (including re-entry date)

A note on electronic signatures:

On March 26, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) provided the following guidance on electronic Form I-20 issuance: 

Can DSOs electronically send signed Forms I-20 to students instead of physically mailing the forms?

Yes, due to COVID-19, DSOs may electronically send Forms I-20 to students. 

What methods can DSOs use to sign and send Forms I-20?

 SEVP has identified the following methods to sign and send the Form I-20:

  • Email a scanned version of the physically signed Form I-20;
  • Email a digitally signed Form I-20 using electronic signature software; or
  • Email a digitally signed Form I-20 that contains a digitally reproduced copy of a physical signature. 

Only approved principal designated school officials (PDSOs) and DSOs may physically sign or input their own digital signature to the Form I-20. Individuals who are not approved on the school’s Form I-17, “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student,” may not input a DSO’s signature—either digital or physical—to the Form I-20.  By signing the Form I-20 or inputting their digital signature, PDSOs and DSOs attest that they are the approved individual issuing the Form I-20.

Additional guidance followed in May 2020:

Has SEVP worked with both the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in developing the policy to accept the use of electronic signatures during the COVID-19 emergency?

SEVP coordinated with both the Department of State and CBP regarding the policy to allow electronic issuance and signing of Forms I-20 for the duration of the COVID19 emergency. Both agencies are in support of this action. SEVP continues to
respond to any issues raised or questions from both agencies about this policy and will provide clarity as needed.

F-1 visa holders have 60 days after their program end date to leave the United States. F-1 students who participate in post-completion OPT have 60 days after their OPT end date, or 90 days of unemployment during their OPT period (whichever comes first) to depart.  

Students who are unable to depart within their grace period should file an I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status to request a Change of Status to B-2 (visitor) prior to the end of their grace period.  Although it is not ideal, students who do not file within their grace period may still file the I-539 and request a nunc pro tunc approval (a backdated approval) and make a compelling argument that the failure to file on time was due to reasons out of their control. 

Nova Southeastern University’s Office of International Affairs is unable to assist with I-539 filings.  Students may wish to seek the assistance of a qualified immigration attorney, such as NSU’s external legal counsel, Fragomen.  Fragomen’s I-539 filing fee is $1,500.00. 

The Office of International Affairs recommend's Fragomen Worldwide's Immigration Summaries for the most up-to-date information on country-specific travel details.  Students should also consult the Department of State equivalencies of their countries and/or the U.S. embassies in their country for additional travel information.
Miscellaneous F-1 Student Information

Details about how your course will be offered in an online environment will be provided by your faculty.  There are two types of online courses:

  • Synchronous - Course takes place at the same dates/times as when it was offered in person.  All students are expected to log into your course at the same time and interact with the faculty instructor in a live setting.
  • Asynchronous - Course content is delivered and engaged with at different times, such as recorded lectures, discussion posts, etc.

Most classes will likely utilize a combination of methods, but students should expect that they will still need to be available to log into their classes and participate in class at their scheduled class dates and times.  This is true even for students who are planning to be in different time zones.  It is your responsibility to ensure you have appropriate connectivity and technology to be available at your scheduled class dates and times.  

Students who have fallen out of status should schedule an appointment with an International Student Advisor to discuss their options.  If you have failed to maintain F-1 student status and wish to regain valid status, there are two ways you can be reinstated:

  1. Apply to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for reinstatement.
  2. Leave the US and reenter using a new I-20 with a new SEVIS number.
Under federal USCIS regulation 8 CFR 214.2(f)(16), an F-1 student is eligible for reinstatement if all of the following conditions apply:
  • You have not been out of status for more than 5 months at the time of filing the request for reinstatement
    • OR the failure to file within the 5 month period was the result of exceptional circumstances and that you filed the request for reinstatement as promptly as possible under these exceptional circumstances
  • You do not have a record of repeated or willful violations of [USCIS] regulations
  • You are currently pursuing, or intending to pursue, a full course of study in the immediate future at the school which issued the Form I-20
  • You have not engaged in unauthorized employment
  • You are not deportable on any ground other than section 237(a)(1)(B) or (C)(i) of the Act
  • You establish, to the satisfaction of the [USCIS], in detail showing, either that:
    • The violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond the student’s control. Such circumstances might include:
      • serious injury or illness, closure of the institution, a natural disaster, or inadvertence, oversight, or neglect on the part of the DSO
      • but do not include instances where a pattern of violations or where a willful failure on the part of the student resulted in the need for reinstatement
    • OR The violation relates to a reduction in the student’s course load that would have been within a DSO’s power to authorize, and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the student

OIA will assist you with a reinstatement petition only if all of the conditions above apply. If you do not meet the above eligibility requirements you will need to consult a US immigration attorney.

Unfortunately, there has not been any guidance provided on how the Department of Homeland Security will address situations where an individual has fallen out of status and is required to leave the U.S. but is unable to do so due to current travel restrictions.  Students may wish to seek the assistance of a qualified immigration attorney, such as NSU’s external legal counsel, Fragomen.  

The Presidential Proclamation signed on April 22, 2020 does not currently have any impact on non-immigrant visa categories, including F-1 students and J-1 scholars.  You may read the full proclamation at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-honoring-commitment-protect-american-workers-temporarily-pausing-immigration/.

Students who will need a Social Security Number (SSN) due to OPT can apply for their SSN at the same time they apply for OPT, using the same I-765 form.

Unfortunately, as of March 18, 2020, all Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed and not providing in-person services.  There have been mixed responses from the SSA as to if students can apply for a SSN by mail.  Even if this service is permitted by the local SSA, it requires that students mail all original documents (including the student's passport) and that materials are returned by standard mail, without a tracking number.  For this reason, we do not recommend students apply for an SSN by mail and instead wait for Social Security Administration offices to reopen.  Please check https://www.ssa.gov/coronavirus/ for more information on Social Security Administration services.

Most state laws, including Florida law, do not require an individual to have a SSN before they start employment.  We encourage you to explain to your employer why you may not be able to obtain a SSN until the Social Security Administration reopens to see if they will allow you to begin employment prior to receiving your SSN. 

Currently, NSU requires student employees to have already obtained their SSN before they are able to begin employment.  

Yes! All F-1 students have a filing responsibility.  At this time, NSU's Glacier Tax Prep workshops have been canceled.  However, using the Glacier Tax Prep software is very easy and will walk you through your filing responsibilities step-by-step.  Visit the Office of International Affairs Taxes page for additional information and to access the Glacier Tax Prep software.  

The United States tax filing deadline has been extended to July 15th.  Your taxes must be postmarked by this date.  

If you experience severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond your control, you may submit an application to USCIS to work off-campus due to an Economic Hardship.  Note: At this time, we do not have any examples of successful or unsuccessful Economic Hardship applications due to COVID-19. 

Economic Hardship reminders:

  • You must have been in F-1 status for at least one academic year.
  • You must provide documentation of your economic hardship.
    • USCIS has recently been very strict in their review of economic hardship applications.  Students should be prepared to provide documentation of extenuating circumstances beyond standard COVID-19 disruptions in order to be considered for economic hardship.  
  • The Economic Hardship application is filed using the USCIS Form I-765 which requires a $410 processing fee.
  • Economic Hardship applications will take approximately three months to be processed.
  • If approved, economic hardship limits off-campus employment to 20 hours a week while classes are in session.  Students may be full-time during university breaks.  

If you wish to apply for Economic Hardship, please schedule an an advising appointment at http://bit.ly/nsuoissadvising.

Please be advised that NSU cannot provide any kind of tax advice, tax consultation, or tax preparation assistance to you.

CARES Act credits are only for Resident Aliens (RAs).  This is a tax designation, not an immigration designation.  The vast majority of F-1 students are Non-Resident Aliens (NRAs) for tax purposes.

  • If you filed 2019 or 2018 taxes and you were a resident alien at the time of your most recent filing, you may be eligible for the CARES Act stimulus credit.
    • Single filers must have a Social Security Number (SSN) to be eligible.
    • Married Resident Aliens who filed their taxes jointly must both have SSNs to be eligible (unless at least one spouse is a member of the armed forces).
    • Children who are US citizens of Non-Resident Aliens are not considered qualifying children and are ineligible for a credit.
  • If you were a Non-Resident Alien when you filed your 2018 taxes but are now considered a Resident Alien for tax purposes and have an SSN, you may still be able to file your 2019 return and qualify for the credit.

 Learn more about determining if you are a Non-Resident Alien (the vast majority of F-1s) or a Resident Alien for tax purposes here.  NSU F-1 students are also encouraged to utilize Glacier Tax Prep software which will walk students step-by-step through their tax-filing responsibilities, including determining if they are a Non-Resident Alien or Resident-Alien for tax purposes.  

Details about exactly when or how CARES Act credits will be paid have not been released, other than to say that individuals who are eligible to receive CARES Act credits will receive them as direct deposits or mailed checks based on the information on file from previous tax refunds.    

As outlined in the previous question, the majority of F-1 and J-1 visa holders are considered Non-Resident Aliens (NRAs) for tax purposes and are ineligible for the CARES Act stimulus checks.  However, we have received reports that some ineligible students have received a CARES Act stimulus check.  This has likely occurred due to a student's incorrect filing of their 2019 and/or 2018 taxes.  If a Non-Resident Alien incorrectly filed their tax return using the form 1040 or 1040-EZ instead of the 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ, they may have been incorrectly issued a CARES Act stimulus check.  This error should not have happened if a student utilizes NSU's Glacier Tax Prep software.  However, this error is very common for students who have utilized TurboTax or another outside tax filing service.

If you received a CARES Act stimulus check, please determine if you are a Non-Resident Alien (the vast majority of F-1s) or a Resident Alien for tax purposes here.  If you are a Non-Resident Alien, like the vast majority of F-1 students, and you have incorrectly received a CARES Act stimulus check, Arctic International (the company that operates Glacier Tax Prep) has provided the following recommendations:

Return of Stimulus Payment:

  • Most importantly, the nonresident alien should NOT spend the erroneously received stimulus payment. To return the payment, we suggest that the individual follow the same guidelines provided by the IRS for when an incorrect federal tax refund is received, which are based on how the erroneous refund was received:
    • Paper check that has not yet been cashed/deposited;
    • Paper check that has already be cashed/deposited; or
    • Direct deposit made to the nonresident alien’s U.S. bank account.   
  • For detailed information about how to return the incorrectly received stimulus payment to the IRS for each of the situations above, please see https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc161 .

 Amendment of Incorrectly Filed 2018 and/or 2019 Federal Income Tax Return:

  • The nonresident alien must immediately file an amended tax return.  Information about how to amend the incorrectly filed 2018 and/or 2019 Form 1040 may be found within the Glacier Tax Prep software by selecting “FAQ” from the menu.   

 It is important to note that if the nonresident alien does not immediately return the erroneously received stimulus payment, he or she may be subject to interest accrued until the payment is returned.  Also, until such time as the incorrectly filed federal income tax return is amended to submit the correct federal income tax return, the nonresident alien is subject to a filing penalty and/or loss of any otherwise applicable deductions or allowances, including income tax treaty exemptions.  While immigration issues are beyond the scope of our expertise, it is important to note that failure to file a correct federal income tax return and/or filing a fraudulent federal income tax return are violations of U.S. tax law and may potentially impact current or future immigration status.

Nova Southeastern University’s Office of International Affairs is unable to assist with addressing CARES Act issues.  Students may wish to seek the assistance of a qualified tax professional and/or immigration attorney.

Unemployment benefits vary state-by-state but often require an EAD card non-citizens. Presumably F-1 students with valid issued EADs would be considered work-eligible by DHS and thus may qualify by the state for unemployment.  The Office of International Affairs is unable to provide further information regarding your eligibility for unemployment benefits, nor the process for obtaining these benefits or the implications of accepting such benefits.  You are strongly encouraged to seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney before filing for or receiving any unemployment benefits.
If you have a question that is not related to your immigration status, you will need to contact the appropriate department for that question. For example, questions about on-campus housing (including personal items left in on-campus housing) should be directed to the Office of Residential Life & Housing.  Questions about your on-campus jobs should be directed to your supervisor and/or Student Employment.  Questions related to housing and meal credits/refunds should be directed to Enrollment Student Services at ESSStudentAccounts@nova.edu or by calling (954) 262-5200 or (800) 541-6682, ext. 25200.
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