Fall 2020 F-1 Guidance

International Students (F-1 and J-1)

Many of you probably heard about the new rule issued by ICE on July 6 and then cancelled on July 13 because of a court challenges by US colleges and universities.  This rule and its cancellation created great confusion and anxiety for both F-1 students and their international advisors.  However, after the July 13 court appearance, an agreement was made that the rules from March, permitting online study because of the COVID emergency, will remain in place.

F-1 and J-1 students who have questions about their immigration status are invited to visit the website of the Office of International Programs and Services https://oips.gmu.edu/ for information.  OIPS is open, but we are not providing in-person advising services; our staff is working remotely.  We are scheduling virtual meetings with students and accepting document requests online.  This will continue through the fall semester.  We are fully available to you and will assist you as always, just in a virtual format.  Advisors also respond to e-mails, so please contact us if you need us:

Please review the following information about online study for continuing and new students for fall 2020.

Enrollment and F-1 Status

Current George Mason F-1 and J-1 Students Studying in the U.S.

  1. I am confused about the rule for online study. In spring I took my courses online, but I heard that a new rule limits online study.  Is that true
    • Not anymore.  The new rule, issued on July 6, was cancelled.  Continuing F-1 and J-1 students are not limited in the number of online courses they take for fall.  However, this flexibility exists because of COVID-19.  In future semesters, your ability to enroll online may be restricted.  Check the OIPS website at oips.gmu.edu for updated information.
  2. I am a continuing F-1 or J-1 George Mason student studying in the U.S. How many classes can I take online?
    • For fall 2020, there is no limit to the number of online courses you may take.
  3. I heard that all F-1 students will need a new I-20 for fall. Is that still true?
    • No.  When the July 6 rule was cancelled, the requirement for new I-20 forms was cancelled at the same time. Current students do not need a new I-20 if they are in the U.S. or already have a valid F-1 visa to return to the U.S. Students who need to renew an F-1 visa should contact us at oips@gmu.edu for special instructions.
  4. What do I need to know if I am traveling back to the U.S?
    • If you are traveling back to the U.S., make sure that know about any travel restrictions from the country you are traveling from to the U.S. Please see here for more information.  Also make sure that you have the required or recommended documents listed below:
      • I-20 with travel signature on Page 2.
        • For INTO Mason matriculating students: If you are traveling back to the U.S. before you receive your degree I-20, you can use your Pathways I-20 to return if you have a travel signature on the Pathways I-20.
      • Valid Passport (The passport should be valid six months into the future. For example, if you return on August 1, your passport should be valid until February 1, 2021.
      • Valid F1 Visa
      • Recommended: ​Print out the information here, which explains that George Mason has a hybrid model, with a mix of online, in-person, and face-to-face courses for Fall 2020. We have NOT received information that you will be required to show proof of George Mason’s fall operations, but we are recommending that you print out this information in case the airport officials ask you questions about the Fall semester.

Current F-1 and J-1 George Mason Students Studying Outside the U.S.

  1. I am now outside the US and want to study online for the fall semester. Can I do this?
    • Most students can study online from anywhere in the world.  Students from sanctioned countries (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the Crimea region of Ukraine) need special permission to study online from outside the US.
  2. I was enrolled at GMU for spring 2020 and I have an active SEVIS record. Can I keep my SEVIS record active if I study online from outside the US?
    • F-1 students may maintain an active SEVIS record if enrolled full-time for fall 2020 from outside the US.

New F-1 and J-1 George Mason Students

  1. I am planning to begin study at GMU in fall 2020; I am currently outside the US and would like to begin my program online in fall and enter the US to study in person for spring 2021. Can I do this?
    • Most newly-admitted students can begin their programs online from anywhere in the world.  Students from sanctioned countries (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the Crimea region of Ukraine) may not begin study online for fall 2020 from outside the US.  Graduate students who plan to begin their degree study online for fall should notify their academic departments. Students who begin their studies online and are academically eligible to continue in their program can request an I-20 for Spring 2021 upon submission of required documents by the OIPS deadline.
  2. I am planning to begin study at GMU for fall 2020. I am currently outside the US and have not been able to get a visa.  Can I begin study online and then enter the US late if I get a visa after school starts?
    • If you expect to be a few days late, you can get special permission to enter the US after the arrival date specified on your I-20 or DS-2019 form.  You will need a late arrival letter from your academic department to show to the immigration inspector when you request entry into the US.  You should not plan to arrive after August 31.  We are required to cancel the I-10 and DS-2019 forms of students who do not report to the University at the beginning of the semester.  In that case, you can continue to study online and request a new I-20 or DS-2019 form to continue your program on campus in spring 2021.  (As mentioned in #1 above, students from certain countries—Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the Crimea region of Ukraine—may not begin study online from outside the US.)
  3. Do I need a new I-20 with special comments about my study to apply for my F1 Visa?
    • When the July 6 rule was cancelled, the requirement for new I-20 forms was cancelled at the same time. However, since these changes are recent, some U.S. embassies might still require a new I-20 when students apply for their visa. Therefore, George Mason will issue new I-20s with special comments to new students if needed. New undergraduate students will receive more information from world@gmu.edu. New graduate students will receive a Fall Initial Student Survey to notify OIPS of their fall enrollment plans. OIPS will provide graduate students with more information once we have received their form.
  4. As a newly arrived F-1 or J-1 student in the US, are there any restrictions to the number of online classes I can take in fall 2020?
    • New F-1 students must enroll in at least one F2F or hybrid course.  Newly arrived J-1 students must take at least half of their courses in person, or in a hybrid format.  No more than half of a J-1 student’s courses may be online for fall.
  5. I am a transfer student. Are there any transfer student requirements I must follow?
    • You can begin studying at George Mason inside or outside of the U.S. However, your SEVIS record will not be activated until you enter the U.S.

Employment and F-1 Status

OPT FAQs

  1. Can I work remotely on OPT?
    • Yes
  2. I’m in my home country doing remote work for my OPT company?  Do I need to come back to the US to maintain my F1 status?  How long can I stay outside the US and maintain my F1 status?
    • We are waiting for additional guidance and will update these FAQs as soon as possible.
  3. I heard OPT and CPT will be cancelled. Is that true?
    • OPT and CPT are currently benefits that are available to students who have maintained their F1 status. These benefits are written into the US Regulations and would take a long time to change; however, the president may be able to issue a temporary Executive Order that could impact OPT and CPT. George Mason and other universities are monitoring any developments and will inform students as soon as possible.
  4. Can I exceed the 90 days of unemployment (150 days for STEM OPT)?
    • No. SEVP has not increased the number of allowed unemployment days.
  5. What if I don’t make 20 hours a week?
    1. My company is furloughing people/asking us to take reduced hours
      • Flexibility regarding work authorization (OPT/CPT) will continue for Fall 2020, including required number of hours of employment. 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.
    2. I have a few independent projects I work on, so might not get a full 20 hours every week.
      • Flexibility regarding work authorization (OPT/CPT) will continue for Fall 2020, including required number of hours of employment. 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.
  6. I usually get 20+ hrs a week, but some weeks I might not – do I need to report that?
    • No.  Flexibility regarding work authorization (OPT/CPT) will continue for Fall 2020, including required number of hours of employment. 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.
  7. My OPT and grace period will end soon, so I need to leave the US. What if my country isn’t receiving international flights?
    • I’m scared to travel/I have an underlying health condition that puts me at higher risk, what should I do?
      • You have a few options:
        • Change of Status: You may wish to consult with an immigration attorney about your eligibility to change your visa status to temporary visitor or another visa category you may be eligible for.
        • Embassy: You may also consult with your embassy to ask for assistance. Some embassies are able to arrange exceptions or coordinate flights for citizens of their country.
        • Third Country: Fly through a third country or arrange to stay with friends/family in another country accepting flights from the US
        • New Degree: Enroll in another degree program to extend your F1 status. Consult with an OIPS advisor for required steps.
        • Doctor: Be sure to consult with a medical professional to learn how to minimize risk if you must travel.
  8. I’m on STEM OPT, can I temporarily take unpaid employment or volunteer in my field? There are no jobs hiring right now and I don’t want to lose my status.
    • No. SEVP requires that the employment must be paid to qualify for STEM OPT.
  9. I heard USCIS is reducing its staff.  Will I still get my EAD in time to start my job?  Will they extend the end date on my EAD past 1 year? What if it takes them more than 90 days to process?
    • It may take USCIS 3-5 months to process your OPT application. If it has been more than 3 months, you may contact USCIS to follow up and ask them to track your application. Keep in mind, this will take some time. If it has been more than 5 months, make an appointment with an OIPS advisor. Make sure you have your I-797 Notice of Receipt of your original I-765 OPT application.
    • Your OPT end date cannot be more than 14 months after your program completion date. Unfortunately, USCIS will not extend the end date of your EAD, even if it takes them more than 90 days.
  10. I’m graduating in August. Can I apply for OPT from outside the US?
    • OIPS recommends that you apply for OPT from inside the US. If you are outside of the US for more than 60 days after your last day of class *not your graduation date* USCIS may consider you as having completed your F1 degree status and could reject your application.
  11. I applied for OPT after I graduated, but then my country made me come home so I am not in the US anymore. I still haven’t gotten my EAD yet.  If I get my EAD, do I need to come back to the US? Or can I work remotely from home and maintain my F1 status?  Will I have any problems entering the US?
    • Flexibility regarding work authorization (OPT/CPT) will continue for Fall 2020, including required number of hours of employment. 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.
    • Once you are outside of the US, your re-entry is not guaranteed. If USCIS approves your EAD, you will need the following documentation to be considered for re-entry:
      • Passport valid for 6 months into the future
      • Unexpired F1 visa
      • Valid I-20 with a travel signature within 6 months of arrival
      • Job offer letter (not required but highly recommended)
  12. Can I expedite my OPT application? I saw that USCIS will consider expedite requests if there is economic hardship. I got a job and they need me to start soon/they need to know when I can start and I don’t want to lose the job offer.
    • No. The I-765 application is used for many visa categories. Because F1 OPT is optional, USCIS does not usually consider requests to expedite. If you choose, you may send an addition to your original application including the below. Keep in mind, it is still unlikely USCIS will expedite your application.
      • A copy of your I-797 Notice of Receipt of the I-765 application
      • A copy of your job offer letter, on company letterhead
      • A brief cover letter explaining why you are asking for expedited processing

Remember that you are still responsible for updating your OPT/STEM OPT employment. For STEM OPT students, that includes Validation Reports and Evaluations. Review the OIPS OPT and STEM OPT site. Questions can be sent to oipsopt@gmu.edu.

 

CPT FAQs

  1. I got an internship for Fall and they want me to work remotely. Can I, or do I have to go to the office in person?  If I can work remotely, does it matter what state the company is in?  What if my company is only partially opening, can I do part remote and part on site work? Is there a minimum number of hours I have to do on site, like with my classes?
    • As long as you are meeting the requirements for your internship class and the internship is directly in your major area of study, you may work remotely for companies outside of DC/VA/MD. Check with your academic advisor or department for additional guidance.
  2. I got an internship with a US company, but I’m living outside the US. Do I need CPT? What if I’m taking an online internship class with my department?
    • No. CPT is an F1 benefit. If you are not maintaining F1 status, then you do not need CPT. You should check with the company’s Human Resource department/Tax advisor/or immigration attorney regarding any additional paperwork you may need to fill out for receipt of payment or any other employment limitations; you may also want to confirm that you will not be expected to come to the US to fulfil employment obligations.
    • You may be authorized for CPT from your home country, if you would like to be.  Updated CPT procedures for Fall 2020 will be published on our website.
    • If you choose not to get CPT authorization, OIPS recommends that you keep documentation regarding payment, start and end dates, travel history, and the fact that the internship did not take place in the US for your personal files.