COVID-19 Planning for International Students


Updated 01/26/2021 - This page is designed to provide information and resources to incoming and current F-1 and J-1 international students at the University of Chicago during the academic year 2020-2021. As new information becomes available, this page will be updated. 

We know that these are unique times that can be quite stressful and uncertain. We are here to help support you and provide as much information as we can, as we share the latest government guidance, university resources, and the specific steps you can take as you prepare to begin or resume your studies this fall. We will continue to update this page as any significant procedural and policy announcements related to COVID-19 are released.


Latest Immigration and Travel Updates

ICE Guidance Released July 24, 2020:
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released updated guidance and FAQs specific to F-1 international students continuing in academic programs, as well as providing clarification for our newly admitted incoming students. 

Routine Visa Services:
U.S. embassies and consulates are gradually resuming routine visa services for students. According to the State Department, each consular post will begin routine visa services on its own timeline, taking into consideration local conditions. U.S. consulate/embassy websites are recommended as the most reliable source for up-to-date information. 

Emergency Visa Appointments
Individuals applying for student visas may not be eligible for emergency visa appointments, but this varies by consular post. Given this is an application you are making individually with the Department of State, the U.S. Embassies and Consulates will not entertain requests from the University or the Office of International Affairs on your behalf. Be sure to schedule the earliest appointment available to you, continue to check for earlier openings, and connect with the nearest Embassy/Consulate to stay abreast of announcements locally.

Travel/Entry Restrictions:
All individuals are reminded that their admission remains subject to a determination by Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry.

There are five COVID-19-related proclamations limiting travel to the U.S. originally signed by President Trump and extended on January 25, 2021, by President Biden, who added a proclamation limiting travel to the U.S. from South Africa as well. 

These orders remain in effect since their implementation. All six proclamations suspend entry into the U.S. of a nonimmigrant (student visa holder) physically present in any of the countries listed below during the 14-day period preceding entry or attempted entry into the U.S.:

Effective January 26, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expands the requirement for a negative COVID-19 test to all air passengers entering the U.S.  Per the CDC:

  • Air passengers are required to get a viral test (a test for current infection) within the 3 days before their flight to the U.S. departs, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation of recovery before they board. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger.

​If you are planning return travel, please consult with your airline. For more:

Presidential Proclamations Impacting Travel and Entry - available here.

Schengen Area, UK and Ireland Exemptions:
The U.S. Department of State is issuing "national interest exemptions" to the Schengen area, UK, and Ireland proclamations for F-1 and J-1 students. According to the announcement, “Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas, do not need to seek a national interest exception to travel. Students from those areas who are traveling on a J-1 may contact the nearest embassy or consulate to initiate an exception request."

  • As of January 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of State indicates exemptions continue to be issued in accordance with previously indicated procedures. Please check with the U.S. consulate or embassy to which you would apply for a visa sticker to find out how to apply for an exemption.

The Schengen area includes Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. 

  • Department of State Announcement - available here
  • CBP Guidance document confirming that F-1 and F-2 dependents should be eligible for entry from these countries - available here

University Announcements & Resources

See below for important links to general University updates:

University Resources:

New Students - Initial F-1/J-1 Status

Beginning your academic program outside of the U.S.
New international students who began their academic programs abroad and may continue to be abroad for part or the duration of the 2020-2021 academic year should be in contact with OIA for updated immigration documents to support your arrival in the U.S.  OIA recommends you request your immigration document (I-20 or DS-2019) and continue to request an F-1 or J-1 visa from the nearest U.S. consulate/embassy to ensure you have the appropriate documents to join your program in-person for a future quarter in 2021. Please note:

  • Beginning your program outside of the U.S. permits you to enroll in all online courses.
  • Questions about deferring admission from Autumn 2020 to Autumn 2021 should be directed to your academic program.
  • Joining your academic program in-person and on-campus in Winter or Spring quarter 2021 will require an updated I-20 or DS-2019 with start dates corresponding to the start of the academic quarter in which you will be joining.
    • OIA will communicate to students directions on how to request an updated I-20 or DS-2019 with a later start date. 
    • Students who choose to join in-person in Winter quarter 2021 will be issued updated documents reflecting Jan 4, 2021 as the start date. 
    • Students who choose to join in-person in Spring quarter 2021 will need to request and be issued an updated I-20 or DS-2019 reflecting March 29, 2021 as the start-date. 
    • F-1 and J-1 students may enter the U.S. up to 30-days in advance of the start date listed on the I-20 or DS-2019. 

Arriving for the First Time in a Future Quarter:
You may enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status up to 30-days before the program start date on your I-20 or DS-2019 (9/1/2020). You should arrive no later than the initial session start date or start of classes. As these dates are determined based on the academic calendar, mid-quarter/late start dates cannot be accommodated. Any attempts to enter the U.S. after the initial session start date listed on your I-20 are not advised and are subject to CBP's (Customs and Border Protection) discretion. 

  • Beginning your program in Autumn 2020 or Winter 2021 quarter, in-person in the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status, will requrie that at least one of the courses you enroll in is hybrid (e.g. with both online and in-person components). All other courses may be online.
  • ICE guidance issued July 24, 2020, indicates that if the University switches from hybrid to online courses at any point during Autumn quarter, you may remain in the U.S. and continue with your classes fully online without impact to your F-1 or J-1 status.

Impact on F-1 OPT/CPT
To be eligible for CPT/OPT, you must have been enrolled as a full-time student for the three quarters directly preceding your employment. Please note:

  • Based on current guidance from the U.S. government, a first-year student on an F-1 visa who has not been in the U.S. for a full academic year in their program will not currently be eligible for CPT authorization in summer 2021.

  • We have been tracking this issue and requesting clarification from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. We certainly hope that clarification may be provided under a new administration, but it is important for you to understand where the government stands currently on this issue so you may plan accordingly. If further guidance is issued by the government, we will alert you immediately.

  • F-1 or J-1 students in academic programs requiring practical experience (e.g. internship, etc.) will remain eligible for CPT or Academic Training (AT) after the first academic year in the program. 

Financial Aid & Funding:
Any questions regarding stipends, fellowships or university funding should be directed to your admitting department. 

After Arriving in the U.S.: 
The OIA has prepared Online F-1/J-1 International Student Orientation modules for new students. This interactive resource contains important information on visa maintenance requirements once you have arrived in the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status. 

You must check in electronically through the OIA Portal within 5 days of arriving in to Chicago.

New Students - Changing Statuses to F-1/J-1 Status from within the U.S.

An individual in lawful immigration status already in the U.S. may apply to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status from a current to desired change of status. The Change of Status application (Form I-539) is processed by USCIS and may take several months to be approved. Many students choose to work with an immigration attorney to file the I-539. 

Study while the COS Application is Pending:
Some statuses permit study while others do not. For example, regulations prohibit study while in B-1/B-2 status. If study is permitted in your current status and does not otherwise interfere with your ability to maintain that status, it may possible to enroll in courses while the application is pending. We recommend consulting with an attorney and/or your current visa sponsor to determine if study is permitted in your current status. 

Travel while Application is Pending: 
International travel while your application for a change of status is pending with USCIS may result in rejection. Given processing timelines, please plan accordingly and consult with the attorney who aided in the preparation of your application.

Check In Form
If you applied for a change of status, please complete the form below and upload copies of your USCIS receipt notice or approval notice.

New Students - SEVIS Transfer 

If you are currently in F-1/J-1 status at another U.S. institution, and will transfer your SEVIS record to the University of Chicago, you can retain your current SEVIS ID number and you do not have to pay the SEVIS fee again.

Visa Validity:
If your F-1 visa is still valid, you can continue to use it until its expiration date.  It is not a problem if your old school's name is on your visa.

Travel Prior to the Start of Classes:
You are permitted to remain in the U.S. or travel abroad and re-enter the U.S. in between programs. Note that SEVIS transfer students are not subject to the 30-day entry restriction and can enter the U.S. at any point before your program begins.

Check In Form:
You must check in electronically through the OIA Portal after arriving in the U.S./if you are planning to remain in the U.S.

Based on current guidance, we are reviewing status maintenance requirements for SEVIS transfer students enrolled in hybrid or online classes. As we continue to analyze the guidance with partner institutions and professional associations for clarifications, we will release additional information to address these questions more formally. Please continue to monitor the OIA's website for announcements. 

Continuing Students in Active F-1/J-1 Status

COVID-19 Fall 2020 Guidance for continuing J-1 students
Released July 29, 2020, the Department of State (entity with regulatory oversight of the J-1 visa program) announced updates regarding requirements for J-1 students. Notable within the guidance:

  • Continuing students may take all courses online in the U.S. or abroad and maintain their J-1 student status.
  • New and incoming students should be attending institutions that are at least hybrid in nature (not 100% online).

COVID-19 Fall 2020 Guidance for continuing F-1 students 
Released July 24, 2020, continuing students in F-1 status may choose to take their Autumn quarter classes fully online or hybrid (classes with both online and in-person components) while maintaining F-1 status. Notable within the guidance:

  • Continuing students enrolling fully online in autumn quarter may reside in the U.S. or abroad and take their courses.
  • Continuing students enrolling online in the U.S. or abroad are maintaining status as long as they are enrolled full-time.
  • Current students will not need an updated I-20 document reflecting enrollment in a hybrid program. 
  • July 24th Guidance - available here

Virtual Events

Past Events

Upcoming Events

  • TBD


Will I need a new I-20 confirming the format of my classes?

If I start my program abroad in Autumn and plan to enter the U.S. in Winter quarter, will I need a new I-20 or visa?

Will I still need to pay for the university’s insurance plan or submit immunizations if I plan to start the program outside of the country?

I am a SEVIS transfer student (transferred my SEVIS record from my previous school to the University of Chicago). Do I need a new visa and I-20 to enter the U.S.?

Can Canadian citizens enter the U.S.?