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. Please review the information below to learn more about some of the specifics. International Student Services has moved all operations online and is processing immigration applications, I-20 updates, etc. virtually with regular email contact to each group for updated and on MyCIIS.

CIIS has announced that most courses will be online for the spring semester, and the administration is still determining which courses and activities will be held on campus. Please check with your program as to the requirements.

Please contact Jody O'Connor with any questions you may have at

You can follow any updates on the ICE website at

Updated November 2020

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 semester off 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 US

Students are welcome to take a semester off 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 and 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 newly re-vamped 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. 

Incoming/New International Students

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

Students enrolled in a 100% virtual schedule are not eligible for the F-1 visa or entry to the U.S. CIIS offers course requirements with a face-to-face component thereby making students eligible for the visa/entry. Please reach out to Jody for questions about your program. In general, the guidelines for studying are outlined below.

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

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 US 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 US?

New international students can enter the US up to 30 days before their official start date of their first semester on campus.

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.

When can I use employment benefits if I start online?

F-1 Students need to be physically present in the US 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: F-1 visa holder transfer students remaining in the U.S. AND new students in a hybrid schedule

Students transferring from another U.S. institution will follow the process for transferring their SEVIS record from their current institution to CIIS. These folks may remain in the U.S. and must begin their course full-time in F-1 visa status even if their CIIS program is being held 100% online.

Students registered in a program at CIIS that offers an in-person or hybrid class may apply for and enter the U.S. using the F-1 student visa to attend.

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?

Barring any travel restrictions and potential difficulty getting a visa renewed at a U.S. Embassy (if applicable), a transfer student can travel and return to the U.S. using their CIIS SEVIS I-20 form (or documents if on valid post-completion OPT).  However, it is not recommended to travel due to the uncertainties and for the requirement for you to begin the program at CIIS on time.

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 see if you can study while maintaining your non-student visa status.

The tourist visa (visa waiver) status does NOT allow the holder to study full-time toward a degree.

Option 3: Delay the start of your program to Spring 2021 or Fall 2021 Semester

If online learning won't work for you, 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!

What happens to my I-20 when I delay my admission, if I already have a CIIS I-20?

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’ve paid the enrollment deposit and have submitted all requirements to obtain the SEVIS I-20, you will receive your CIIS I-20 Form virtually within a week.

I enrolled in Fall 2020 classes – do I have to drop them if I delay my admission?

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

Stay Connected to CIIS