Spring 2021 FAQ

Spring 2021 Enrollment and Travel Information

The current F-1 guidance remains in effect through the Spring 2021 semester.

We have provided general guidance in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) below.  If you are currently in the U.S., OIPS always recommends that you register for hybrid or face-to-face classes if you can, especially if your F-1 status began in the fall 2020 semester.

Additional Resources

Travel Information for all F-1 and J-1 Students

Note: Every Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) unit has its own set of procedures. If you travel through Dulles Airport, it is very likely that you will experience the following situation:

  1. What happens when I go through Customs at the airport?
    • The Customs official will ask to see your documents (valid I-20 or DS-2019, F-1 or J-1 visa, and passport) and ask you to lower your mask, so that a picture can be taken. The airport official might ask about your plans in the U.S. Be truthful about your studies and plans in the U.S. Most likely, if the information that you provide and your documents match the information in the SEVIS system, you will not have a problem entering the U.S.
  2. Will I need to take a COVID-19 test when I enter the U.S?
    • Most travelers will not require a COVID-19 test. If you display COVID-19 symptoms, you might need to go through additional screening and may be required to quarantine. Please check with your airlines to verify if you need a COVID-19 test before boarding.
  3. What do I need to know if I am traveling to the U.S?
    • If you are traveling 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:
      • All Students: Valid unexpired F-1 or J-1 Visa and Passport. The passport should be valid six months into the future. For example, if you return on January 1, your passport should be valid until July 1, 2021. If your visa is expired, unless you qualify for automatic revalidation, you will need to obtain a new visa to re-enter the U.S. More information is on our travel and re-entry page: https://oips.gmu.edu/travel-and-re-entry/
      • New Students: F-1 students need a printed I-20 signed on page 1 by a school official in ink or electronically and signed by you in hand with blue or black ink. J-1 students need an original printed DS-2019 form signed by OIPS in blue ink (electronic DS-2019 forms are not acceptable at this time). Students should also sign the bottom of the DS-2019 form.
      • Returning students: F-1 students need a printed I-20 signed on page 1(school attestation section) and Page 2 (travel endorsement section) by a school official in ink or electronically and signed by you in hand with blue or black ink. J-1 students need an original printed DS-2019 with a valid travel endorsement signature by J-1 advisor in the lower right section of the form. The signature must be less than a year old.
      • 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 Spring 2021. We have NOT received information that you will be required to show proof of George Mason’s Spring operations, but we are recommending that you print out this information in case the Customs officials ask you questions about the Spring semester. New J-1 students should also print out their class schedule from Patriot Web which shows that at least 50% of their Spring 2021 classes are in person or hybrid classes.
  4. What are the rules about I-20s? What I-20 do I need to show to the Customs official at the airport?
    • At this time, the school is still allowed to sign I-20s with electronic signatures. The airport is still allowing students to enter the U.S. with an I-20 that has a school official’s electronic signature. If you have received an I-20 with a DSO’s electronic signature on page 1, school attestation section and page 3, travel endorsement section, it should be valid for 12 months. You should print out a hard copy of the I-20 and sign your name in ink with a blue or black pen.  Please carry the hard copy with you to show Customs.
  5. Can I enter the U.S. with a valid F-1 visa even if I have been outside of the U.S. for more than five months?
    • Many students have been successful entering the U.S. with an F-1 visa that has not expired even if they have been outside of the U.S. for more than 5 months. However, it is best to check with the U.S. Embassy about any required updates to your F-1 visa before entering the U.S.
  6. Do I need to show the Customs official at the airport all of my I-20s/DS-2019s?
    • You should show the Customs official the most recent I-20 or DS-2019 issued to you by OIPS. The I-20 or DS-2019 should match the information in the SEVIS system. You should keep copies of all of your I-20s/DS-2019s for your records, but you do not need to show all of them to the Customs official.
  7. If I have any problems at the airport, how can I contact OIPS?
    • The best way to contact OIPS is to call the main office line at 703-993-2970 during normal office hours, Monday – Friday, 8:30 – 5:00 p.m. At any other time, call the George Mason University Campus Police at 703-993-2810. You can provide this information to the Customs official if necessary. The Campus Police will then contact OIPS if you need urgent help.

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

  1.  I am a continuing F-1 or J-1 George Mason student studying in the U.S. How many classes can I take online?
    • Based on SEVP’s and the Department of State’s Fall 2020 Guidance, there is no limit to the number of online courses that a current student may take. If this flexibility continues for Spring 2021, current students may continue to take all courses online in the U.S.

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

  1. I am now outside the U.S. and want to study online for the Spring 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. J-1 students studying online in Spring 2021 who plan to finish their program outside the U.S., should contact the J-1 advisor at cbodziak@gmu.edu for further instructions.
  2. I was enrolled at GMU for Fall 2020 and I have an active SEVIS record. Can I keep my SEVIS record active if I study online from outside the U.S.?
    • Based on SEVP’s Fall 2020 Guidance, F-1 students may maintain an active SEVIS record if enrolled full-time for Fall 2020 from outside of the U.S. If this flexibility continues for Spring 2021, current students who maintain full-time enrollment may also maintain an active SEVIS record for Spring 2021.
    • Based on the Department of State’s Fall 2020 Guidance, J-1 students may maintain an active SEVIS record if enrolled full-time for Fall 2020 from outside of the U.S. and plan to return to the U.S. before the end of their program.  If this flexibility continues for Spring 2021, current students who maintain full-time enrollment may also maintain an active SEVIS record for Spring 2021. However, if you will finish your program while outside of the U.S., OIPS will need to shorten your SEVIS record and provide you with an updated final DS-2019. Please contact your J-1 advisor for more information: cbodziak@gmu.edu

New F-1 and J-1 George Mason Students

  1. I am planning to begin study at GMU in Spring 2021; I am currently outside the US and would like to begin my program online in Spring 2021 and enter the U.S. to study in person for Fall 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 Spring 2021 from outside the U.S.  Graduate students who plan to begin their degree study online for Spring 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 or DS-2019 for Fall 2021 upon submission of required documents by the OIPS deadline. Note that George Mason cannot issue I-20s or DS-2019s for a Summer 2021 start date. Send an email to oipsadmi@gmu.edu for more information.
  2. I am planning to begin study at GMU for Spring 2021. I am currently outside the US and have not been able to get a visa.  Can I begin study online and then enter the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 February 1, 2021.  We are required to cancel the I-20 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 Fall 2021.  (As mentioned above, students from certain countries—Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the Crimea region of Ukraine—may not begin study online from outside the U.S.)
  3. As a newly arrived F-1 or J-1 student in the U.S., are there any restrictions to the number of online classes I can take in Spring 2021?
    • Based on SEVP’s Fall 2020 Guidance, new F-1 students must enroll in at least one F2F or hybrid course. This rule could continue for Spring 2021. At this time, we recommend that you plan to register for at least one hybrid or F2F 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. Newly arrived J-1 students must also live in campus housing.
  4. 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. If you transferred to George Mason at the beginning of Fall 2020 and studied outside of the U.S. during the Fall term and now plan to enter the U.S in Spring 2021, contact OIPS at oipsregs@gmu.edu for more information.

I-94 Correction Information

  1. What is an I-94?
    • An I-94 is an electronic record of your arrival and departure from the U.S. You can print out a copy of your I-94 here. Click on the blue Get Most Recent I-94 box, and enter your information. Then, click on Next to see and print your I-94. It is a good idea to have a copy of your most recent I-94 every time you enter the U.S. and check it to make sure the information is correct. If you are traveling to the U.S. for the first time, you will need the I-94 to complete F-1 and J-1 check-in with OIPS.
  2. What should I look at on my I-94?
    • Check to make sure that the following information is correct:
      • The Most Recent Date of Entry
      • The Class of Admission. It should state F-1 if you are an F-1 student. It should state J-1 if you are a J-1 student.
      • Your name, birthdate, passport number, and country of issuance
  3. What can I do if my I-94 is not correct?
    • You can contact the Deferred Inspection section of the airport to try to correct your information. Often, you will need to go to the Deferred Inspection site in person. However, depending on which airport you entered, you might be able to correct the information by telephone or email. Check here for a list of Deferred Inspection sites and their contact information.
    • The Deferred Inspection Information for Dulles Airport is below:
Washington, D.C.
Address: Deferred Inspection Unit
Washington Dulles International Airport
1 Saarinen Circle, Main Terminal Lower Level, West End
Sterling, VA 20166
Hours of Operation: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Monday – Friday
Contact Information: Phone: (703) 661-2800, ext. 7116
Fax: (703) 661-8394
I-94 Correction Instructions: (703) 661-2800 option 4