As of April 26, 2021, the government agency SEVP has confirmed that the established COVID exceptions to F-1 student rules will remain the same for Fall 2021 and Spring 2022.
The question of whether or not to stay in the US to pursue remote coursework during the COVID situation requires a lot of considerations. This is a very personal decision, and you are welcome to remain in the US or travel home – whichever is best for you and your family.
Of course, the most important thing is your health and safety. This includes mental health, as dealing with a stressful situation and lots of unknowns while far from home, and with many of your usual UMBC support system (friends, roommates, professors, etc) may be away from campus.
Here we suggest a few angles to think about this from, as you decide what is best for you and your family.
Graduate Assistants need to discuss their plans with their supervisor directly, to find out if remote work is an option for them. The Graduate School will also be providing more information as to whether UMBC can pay GA’s who are outside of the US as soon as it is determined what options are legally available in this complex situation.
- F-1 rules typically do not allow a student that is outside of the US during the semester, enrolled online, to be in “active” F-1 status. These rules have been altered during the COVID pandemic, starting in March 2020, by the government agency SEVP (the Student and Exchange Visitor Program), which oversees the international student program.
- On July 15, SEVP provided an update that the March 2020 guidance allowing continuing students with full-time, all online coursework to keep their immigration record active, whether in the US or abroad, will continue into the Spring 2022 semester.
- This is important because if a student’s F-1 immigration record can NOT remain active while you take your Fall online courses from outside of the US, you will need a new I-20 to return to the US, with a new SEVIS fee of $350, and will need to complete 2 new full-time semesters with the new I-20 to be eligible for CPT or OPT work benefits.
Remote Coursework Considerations
- Will you have a reliable internet connection?
- Will you be able to join your classes at their regularly scheduled time, based on the time zone difference, if the class requires live attendance (“synchronous”)? You can contact your individual professors to see if they will require live attendance in class at a certain time, or if they will provide lectures that are pre-recorded and can be viewed any time (“asynchronous”).
- If you need to be quarantined when you return home, can you still participate in courses? This will largely depend on the specific rules your country has imposed for quarantine, such as where you would need to quarantine .
- You will need to remain enrolled full-time if you are a continuing student and participate actively in your online classes – make sure this is something you believe you can do from home
- Be aware of travel restrictions when planning travel to or from US. Buy flexible tickets wherever possible in case you need to change your plans.
- Does your country have any restrictions on you returning? Will you need to be quarantined, and if so, can you manage this?
- Does the US have any restrictions on people leaving? Are there restrictions on returning, when you are ready?
- If you are graduating and applying for OPT, please contact us directly to learn more about options should you choose to travel abroad with a pending OPT application, or when you are preparing to apply for OPT.
- If you live off-campus, make sure to talk to your landlord about options for your rent. It is not safe to assume you can break your lease – you will need to discuss this with your landlord directly. Your roommates may be impacted as well, so it is best to include them in this conversation.
- Are flights available? Are you able to get to the airport?
- Health Insurance – please note the UMBC health insurance cannot be refunded if you choose to leave during the semester, as it has already been purchased by UHS. Is your health insurance better in the US or at home, in case you become sick?
Continuing research off campus:
If you are involved in research at UMBC, please keep these considerations in mind as well:
- If you have a Graduate Assistantship, please work directly with your supervisor to discuss if working remotely is an option for you. Please also note the Graduate School will provide information as to whether this is an option.
- Do you have approval from your mentor/supervisor to conduct research off site?
- Will you have a reliable internet connection?
- Will you be able to join in on discussions with your mentor/research group at regularly scheduled times, based on the time zone difference?
- Do you have approved access to cloud based storage environments to access data to perform your responsibilities? Or will you require approved access to campus services via a VPN network?
- If taking UMBC equipment (e.g., laptops) to perform research tasks, have you received approval to remove that equipment from campus using the off campus loan program? If traveling with UMBC equipment outside of the United States, have you and your mentor/supervisor discussed using a “clean” device – with no technical data or encryption technology so that you may “export” university-owned equipment to your final destination?