CIIS works to help students understand the developing situation surrounding COVID-19 and acknowledges that international students have unique concerns particularly as related to the F-1 student visa regulations. International Student Services has moved all operations online and is processing immigration applications, SEVIS I-20 updates, etc. virtually with regular email new and continuing students for updates. Please also continue to also check this page regularly.

CIIS has announced that most courses will be online for the fall 2021 semester, and the administration is still making final determinations on which courses and activities will be held on campus. Please check with your individual program for details. The Bridge Program Summer Intensive for newly admitted students requires in-person attendance date(s) for those wishing to enter the U.S. on the F-1 visa for fall semester.

Please also review the CIIS Vaccine Requirement for persons coming to campus. All new and continuing students should follow the information outlined online.

Contact: Associate Director of Student Affairs, International Student Recruitment and Services, Jody O'Connor:

You can follow any updates on the ICE guidance for nonimmigrant students FAQ at

Updated July 2021

Incoming/New International Students

We understand that with the current COVID-19 crisis affecting the world there are many questions and uncertainties.

Per the ICE guidance for F1 students and schools, new students enrolled in a 100% virtual schedule are not eligible for the F-1 visa or entry to the U.S. CIIS does offer course requirements with face-to-face components including the in-person date(s) for the Bridge Program Summer Intensive. Therefore, newly admitted persons seeking to obtain the F-1 visa can have a hybrid schedule to meet eligibility for the visa/entry. The guidelines for your options to study are outlined below.

Option 1: Enroll in classes from outside of the U.S.

You may wish to start your CIIS degree virtually from outside the U.S. For this, you will not require the documentation for obtaining the SEVIS I-20 at this time. Common questions are outlined below:

Do I need to enroll in the Bridge Program Summer Intensive?

Yes, we ask all new international students to attend the virtual portion of the Bridge Program. Please find information at

How many classes do I need to take?

There is no specific requirement related to your immigration status until you are physically in the U.S. However, please check with your individual degree program as to any unit minimum requirements.

I obtained the I-20 from CIIS; what happens to my I-20 if I enroll online from outside the U.S. as a new student?

While you are welcome to start your studies remotely, your I-20 start date will need to change to show the first semester you will be physically on CIIS' campus in the U.S. Updated I-20s will be sent to registered students in after the start of the semester.

When can I enter the U.S.?

If you start your program virtual from outside of the U.S., you are eligible to enter the following semester using the I-20 and F-1 visa. New international students can enter the U.S. up to 30 days before their official start date of their first semester on campus. The official start date on the I-20 will show the Bridge Program Winter 2022 or Summer 2022 Intensive dates.

Can I use a different visa I already have, like a B-2 Tourist Visa to enter the U.S. during my course?

The tourist visa (visa waiver) status does NOT allow the holder to study full-time toward a degree. As well, you will not be able to change your visa from within the U.S. from tourist to student visa.

If you have a valid visa status already, such as the H1B visa, you are eligible to enter and maintain that status and begin your course. Please check the regulations for studying in your current visa status.

When can I use employment benefits if I start online?

F-1 visa holders need to be physically present in the U.S. to start an on-campus job and apply for a Social Security Number (SSN), which is required to work and be paid by a U.S. employer.  Whenever students physically arrive to campus, they will be able to work on-campus from the start of the semester.

Option 2: Enroll in classes from inside the U.S.

Per the ICE guidance, new students transferring from another U.S. institution will follow the usual process for transferring their valid SEVIS record from their current institution to CIIS. These folks may remain in the U.S. until their CIIS program begins, must register course full-time and can take a 100% virtual schedule.

New students registered in a full-time hybrid schedule at CIIS may apply for and enter the U.S. using the F-1 student visa to begin their course.

How many classes do I need to take?

Students in the F-1 visa status must register and complete full-time status and maintain all other visa requirements per immigration regulations. Information is in the Maintaining Your Visa Status document on MyCIIS International Students page and will be discussed at the New International Student Orientation.

Can I travel outside and return to start classes at CIIS virtually?

Yes, transfer students who already hold an F-1 visa and have active status in the U.S. may re-enter the U.S. with the CIIS I-20 form even if your fall schedule is 100% virtual. Take caution regarding any travel restrictions and potential difficulty getting a visa renewed, if required.

Can I use a different visa I already have to study in the U.S.?

New students already in valid visa statuses (H1B, F2, L, Q, etc.) are eligible to study at CIIS. Please check the visa regulations for your visa status to check eligibility and rules about studying. If you wish to change your current visa status to the F-1 status from within the U.S. to the F-1 visa, please reach out to the International Student Advisor.

The tourist visa (B1/B2 or visa waiver) status does NOT allow the folks to study full-time toward a degree.

Option 3: Delay the start of your program to Spring 2022 or Fall 2022 Semester

If online learning will not work for you, or you are not ready or able to move to the U.S., you can delay the start of your course by declining the offer of admission and reapplying for a future semester. You will need to work with the Admissions Counselor for the program to reapply for a future semester as there is no deferral policy at CIIS. The process is very simple, not to worry!

If I obtain the CIIS I-20, what happens to my I-20 if I delay my admission?

After the Admissions Office updates your decision to apply for a future semester, international student services will be alerted and will work with you to alter the dates on your I-20 to the new semester of your admission.

When will I get my SEVIS I-20?

After your admission is updated to admitted, you have paid the enrollment deposit and have submitted all requirements to obtain the SEVIS I-20, you will receive your CIIS I-20 within a few weeks.

I enrolled in Fall 2021 classes, but will delay my admission – do I have to drop them?

Yes! If you do not take care of this it will result in an overdue bill at CIIS for the classes that are not dropped.

Current International Students

In general, there have been no major changes to the visa regulations governing the F-1 visa status and students must maintain their visa while inside the U.S. as required by law. Information is on MyCIIS for you to review how to maintain your visa status: registering and completing full-time status tin each fall/spring semester, reporting each change of physical address in the U.S., reporting departure, eligibility and reporting requirements for CPT/OPT.

Enrollment Requirement Exception

  • In a regular full-time semester, students can take a maximum of one online class (or 3 units) in addition to their other classes to meet the minimum required enrollment. Hybrid classes are considered in-person classes. Throughout the duration of the COVID emergency there is NOT an issue with taking a fully virtualized schedule. If you are having difficulty completely your course due to the online format, please reach out to discuss your situation.


The question of whether to stay in the U.S. and endure the COVID-19 emergency requires many considerations for you and your family. Please consider the information below:

  • You are required to inform CIIS if you depart the U.S. to study in your program virtually for the fall semester. Please email Jody with your departure date and plans.
  • Usually, folks outside of the U.S. for more than 5 months will lose their F-1 status. Currentlythe 5-month temporary absence rule from the U.S. has been suspended during the COVID-19 emergency so long as you are maintaining your visa status. That is, if you have departed the U.S. during the COVID emergency and are registered full-time (or with RCL exception), you can reenter the U.S. using the same valid visa and I-20 form beyond the usual 5-month limit. (Note: dissertation students conducting research outside of the U.S. are always exempt from the 5-month rule while maintaining full-time registration at CIIS).
  • Any international or domestic travel should be taken with caution. Check for travel updates.
  • Dependent on when CIIS will return to normal operations and any continuing travel restrictions, students should seek to return to the United States within 30 days of the next available session start date.

Leave of Absence

International students can take a Leave of Absence (LOA) if necessary or desired per details below. The LOA form is on the Registrar's section of MyCIIS and requires the International Student Advisor's signature.

Remaining in the U.S. while on a LOA

International students who wish to remain in the U.S. while taking a LOA need to have a medical reason and will also file the international student Request for Reduced Course Load form with the International Student Advisor. A medical note from an MD or licensed psychologist is required. See form on MyCIIS for details.

Taking time off while outside of the U.S.

Students are welcome to take a LOA from outside of the U.S. As you will not be an active student, the 5-month temporary absence rule for being physically present outside of the U.S. will apply. Your SEVIS I-20 will be cancelled and a new one reissued for your return. You may need to reapply for the student visa. Please see Jody O'Connor for questions and planning.

Campus Employment

F-1 students may continue to engage in their on-campus employment remotely. Find current job postings on the MyCIIS page (log in).

Optional Practical Training

There have been no changes to the OPT application deadlines, application fees (though you may wish to file for a fee waiver) nor to regulations governing this work authorization benefit. To the best of our knowledge, OPT applications are being processed as usual in the typical 90-120 day timeframe. 

A couple notes to consider:

  • 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 (must be more than zero hours).
  • You should apply for OPT from within the U.S. You are welcome to try to apply from outside of the U.S. if you have left due to the COVID-19 emergency, but there are increased risk factors. You also need to make sure you use a reliable U.S. mailing address, where someone you trust will receive your mail.

Severe Economic Hardship

Eligible F-1 visa holders have the right to apply for off-campus employment for the reason of economic hardship. You can read about it in the IS Handbook on MyCIIS and at the USCIS website The most important part of the application is that the student must prove that there has been a sudden and unexpected interruption, through no fault of their own, to their original source of funding that they provided when they first obtained their CIIS I-20.

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