OIA FAQ's on COVID-19

As we all adapt to new formats and working styles, we have important information listed below to help you navigate employment-based immigration in the time of COVID-19. Please note that OIA remains open to serving the international scholar and employee community at the University virtually. Like many of you, we are working remotely and available via email, telephone, or your preferred virtual platform (e.g. Zoom, MS Teams, etc.). Take good care of yourselves and we hope you, your families and friends both here and abroad are safe and taking care also. 

International Scholar FAQs

Click here to view International Student FAQs

 Q. I hold a J-1 visa as a visiting scholar, researcher, or short-term scholar and need a travel signature on my DS-2019.

A. Remember, the travel signature listed on your DS-2019 is valid for 12-months from the latest dated signature, regardless of the number of times you may have entered the U.S. If you need a signature, please reach out to Reshecoa Flanders, OIA Scholar and Employee Adviser, to have a new DS-2019 printed with an updated signature and sent to you via email.

Q. I am a current J-1 scholar and had planned to end my visit and depart the U.S. as planned, but now I can’t leave due to travel restrictions or interruptions to flights – can I stay? 

A. As a J-1 scholar, you are eligible for a 30-day grace period immediately following your DS-2019 program end-date. If you think your appointment or time at the University of Chicago can be extended, please consult with your hosting/hiring department for next steps on extending your DS-2019.
 
Where commercial flights are unavailable or travel to a country is suspended, the U.S. Department of State recommends visiting the websites and social media sites of the embassy in the U.S. of your home country. Some foreign governments are using these sites to provide information about assistance, including registering citizens who are seeking flights home.
 
Q. Can international scholars and employees work remotely while on a J-1 or H-1B visa? 

A. Please consult with your hiring unit/department about adhering to University guidance about being on-campus as well as HR policies on remote work. Per a message from Provost Lee, effective Tuesday, March 31, 2020, at 5pm, all academic and administrative campus buildings will move from general key card access to secure key card access, whereby only those individuals deemed essential personnel who must be on campus will be able to access the facility.

  • H-1B and E-3 visa holders who are now working from home or another remote work site should carry with them a copy of the certified Labor Conditions Application (LCA) and post it at their new worksite for 10 calendar days. Your certified LCA would have been provided by OIA at the time of filing (via email from OIA) and a copy provided along with your approval. The LCA is also noted as ETA Form 9035. Any change to work, including title, salary (beyond annual increases), material changes to duties, department, and early departure need to be reviewed by OIA for possible amendment to the original petition. If an international employee on an H-1B or E-3 visa plans to relocate to a worksite elsewhere in the U.S., please contact OIA as soon as possible.
  • J-1 and TN visa holders may work from a remote worksite without incident at this time. Please inform OIA is any changes in appointment terms are being contemplated (e.g. title, salary, department, and end-date) before making any changes. Please note that UChicago-sponsored J-1 visa holders are not permitted to engage in any non-UChicago activity unless such activity has been reviewed and authorized by OIA in advance.

If you have questions or would like to discuss any of the above, please reach out to your OIA adviser.

Q. As a new J-1 scholar/employee, I was issued a DS-2019 with a start-date between now and May 30, 2020, but have not been able to secure a visa from a U.S. consulate/embassy. What should I do? 

A. The U.S. State Department suspended all routine visa services as of March 20, 2020. The State Department further has indicated that routine visa services will resume as soon as possible, but a specific date cannot be provided at this time. A visa fee is valid to make an appointment one year from the date of payment. No visa fee refunds are available at this time for those applicants who have not been able to schedule or cannot attend a visa interview due to a COVID-19 related closure.
 
The current public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting existing and planned visits where a scholar/employee’s anticipated start-date is upcoming. Due to the U.S. Department of State’s suspension of routine visa services, many of our incoming J-1 applicants will not be able to secure visas in time to arrive by their anticipated start-dates. Please work with your hosting/hiring academic department at the University to determine a later start-date.
 
Q. As a new J-1 scholar/employee, I was issued a DS-2019 and paid the SEVIS I-901 Fee, but have not been able to secure a visa appointment. Can I apply for a refund or transfer of the SEVIS fee for use at a later date? 

A. The SEVIS fee is valid for one year after payment and may be transferred to another SEVIS ID# in certain circumstances. For other SEVIS I-901 Fee related FAQs and information, visit the SEVIS Fee website.

Q. Once routine visa services resume, will priority be given to J exchange visitors and F/J students? 

A. At the appropriate time, the Visa Office of the U.S. Department of State will provide guidance to visa sections worldwide on the resumption of routine visa services. As a matter of general operating procedure, most visa interviews for students and exchange visitors (J visa applicants) are scheduled separately from regular B1/B2 visa applicants (visitors for business and tourism). The U.S. Dept. of State has indicated wait times for students and exchange visitors is generally much shorter.
 
Q. Is it true U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has suspended premium processing? 

A. As of March 20, 2020, USCIS announced an immediate suspension of premium processing for all Form I-129 (H-1B) and I-140 (LPR) petitions until further notice due to COVID-19. USCIS indicates regular processing of cases may take approximately 4-months, although processing times vary and may be impacted further by the current situation. OIA will continue to provide updates as we learn of them.
 
Q. Will OIA continue to process new requests for international scholars and employees requesting a J-1, H-1B, E-3, TN, or other employment-based visas? 

A. While we work remotely in adherence to guidance from the University, as well as in compliance with state and local proclamations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we remain available via email, telephone, and meetings in remote formats (e.g. Zoom, etc.). As such, we will continue to work with hiring/hosting academic departments and their international scholars and employees to keep this important work moving. As the situation continues to evolve, we will continue to make adjustments, which could result in delays beyond the control of OIA or the University. Please let us know if you have any questions by emailing your OIA contact or by sending a general inquiry to the OIA inbox at: international-affairs@uchicago.edu

 This list of FAQ's will continue to be updated as the situation continues to develop and additional information becomes available.