ISS COVID-19 Updates


Texas A&M University is committed to keep our community safe, healthy, and updated. As the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation continues to evolve, Texas A&M University is closely monitoring and taking the appropriate actions.  The Texas A&M Coronavirus (COVID-19) information is located at https://www.tamu.edu/coronavirus/.

We also encourage you to monitor developments through various local, state, and federal agencies for the most up-to-date information. We have compiled a list of those resources below for your convenience. 
We understand that this situation may cause students extra stress and anxiety. We wanted to remind students that the following campus resources are still operating and available to students:
 
International Student Services has created this FAQ page to help our international students understand the evolving issues regarding the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). As the situation evolves, we will regularly update you and this webpage. We strongly encourage you regularly monitor official Texas A&M University communications via email and the web as well as our website for travel updates.

You can also see a recording of our recent COVID 19 FAQ hosted by ISS on April 30, 2020 by navigating to http://tx.ag/ISSCOVIDFAQWebinarRecording


The FAQ is broken up into sections that can be expanded by interacting with each category using your mouse cursor or by tapping on the name on your mobile device. 


Frequently Asked Questions (updated June 4, 2020) 

Insurance 

Both the System Student Health Insurance Plan (SSHIP) and Graduate Student Employee Plan are provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX). The health benefits are identical.

BCBSTX has announced that they are waiving all co-pays and deductibles for all COVID-19 testing when consistent with CDC guidance. This means that if a doctor or other medical professional determines you need to be tested you will pay no out-of-pocket costs.

BCBSTX is now waiving the co-pay on MDLIVE virtual visits effective through April 30th, 2020. So in addition to COVID-19 testing, a virtual visit to speak with a doctor/health professional is free. You can find more information here: https://myahpcare.com/wp-content/uploads/2019-2020-TX-AcademicBlue-Virtual-Visits-Member-Flier-Final.pdf

You can make an appointment online: https://members.mdlive.com/bcbstx/landing_home
COVID-19 treatment will be covered consistent with the benefits of your insurance plan. You can find more information on the benefits of SHIP and Grad Plan here: https://tamu.myahpcare.com/benefits

Student Health Services is currently operating and providing services. You can find more information on their COVID-19 response here: https://shs.tamu.edu/coronavirus
More Information:
Academic Health Plans is offering the Student Assistance Program (SAP) to all Texas A&M System students regardless if they purchased the System Student Health Insurance Plan.  Please visit https://myahpcare.com/wp-content/uploads/SAP-2.pdf for more information regarding SAP.

Additional resources from Academic Health Plans are available at https://myahpcare.personaladvantage.com/
Sign in with the Company code: AHP1


Immigration Status 

We understand this is a difficult time. It is paramount for you to maintain your F-1 or J-1 status at all times. If your circumstances change and you cannot maintain your status, please email iss@tamu.edu or call 979-845-1824.

The enrollment requirements for F-1 and J-1 students remain the same. You must maintain full-time enrollment or have authorization to have less than a full course load of study. http://iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/F-1-Status#3-ImmigrationRegulations

If you need to fall below the required number of credit hours, you must apply for and obtain authorization from ISS for a Reduced Course Load (RCL) prior to dropping below hours. http://iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/F-1-Status#2-F-1ReducedCourseLoad
 
Normally, F-1 students are limited to count 3 hours of online classes per semester toward full-time enrollment and J-1 students are not eligible to count any online classes toward full-time enrollment. However, concerning the COVID-19 situation, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS) are allowing F-1 and J-1 students to enroll in all online classes for the remainder of the Spring semester whether they are inside or outside the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security states "SEVP is committed to remaining flexible in allowing schools to make temporary procedural adaptations so nonimmigrant students can continue to make normal forward progress in their program of study. They can temporarily engage in distance-learning, either from within the U.S. or outside the country, in light of COVID-19. SEVP will provide updated guidance as additional information concerning the scope and length of this situation becomes clearer.”  For more information regarding maintaining your immigration status please refer to: https://www.ice.gov/covid19

According to A&M’s guidance issued on March 17 (found at https://www.tamu.edu/coronavirus/march-17-spring-graduation-ceremonies-postponed.html) , the university has decided that all final exams will not be taken in person. Online testing and other mechanisms for the assessment of student learning are under consideration in collaboration with college deans and faculty and will be announced in the near future. Please contact your academic department for more information about final exam arrangements. See the Texas A&M University page for updates.
 
The summer enrollment requirements for F-1 and J-1 students remain the same. If summer is your first semester at TAMU, first semester in a new academic program, or last semester in your academic program, you must register full-time or have authorization to have less than a full course load of study. http://iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/F-1-Status#3-ImmigrationRegulations

Summer is considered vacation time if it is NOT your FIRST or FINAL semester. When summer is considered vacation time, you are not required to take classes for immigration purposes. Please consult your academic department, and/or Registrar, and/or OGAPS concerning university rules on summer registration.
 
According to the latest SEVP guidance updated on 5/12/2020:

“This is a complex issue that SEVP is addressing within the larger context of the DHS response to the COVID-19 emergency. “

Unfortunately, there is no new government guidance allowing any sort of exceptions. Departing the US before the grace period ends is the best option. Please feel free to reach out to your home country’s Embassy or Consulate in the US for assistance.

If you have difficulty to depart the US before your grace period ends, please consult an experienced immigration attorney about changing to another visa status within the United States. Information on how to locate an immigration attorney can be found at Finding an Immigration Attorney within our resources page located at https://iss.tamu.edu/Resources/Finding-an-Immigration-Attorney .
 
Changing one or more of your course(s) to S/U grading does not directly impact your immigration status. Courses changed to S/U grading will still count toward full-time enrollment requirements for F-1 and J-1 students. F-1 students who wish to pursue the S/U grading option for their CPT course(s) must first verify with their academic department if a grade of S/U will satisfy degree requirements. Please be advised that receiving a U grade or a failing grade in a CPT course may result in negative immigration ramifications if the course cannot remain on the student’s degree plan as a required course.
 
ISS recommends you review the Student FAQs on the Keep Learning website at https://provost.tamu.edu/keep-learning?_ga=2.162490420.984645161.1587607203-551395095.1586990879#FAQ regarding “Grade Mode and S/U Grading” for even more helpful information.


Travel

Please be aware that traveling internationally during the COVID-19 outbreak is very risky. ISS is updating travel information on our FAQ as we receive updates. Those contemplating traveling out of the United States may experience difficulty returning while the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing. Some countries are even barring nationals from re-entering. We recommend that students read all sections in the travel FAQ to make the most informed decision about travel. 

Yes. You must update your Student Local Physical address in Howdy within 10 days of moving.  Visit http://iss.tamu.edu/ISS/media/ISS-Files/ISS-PDF/Current%20Students/Updating-Your-Local-Address-Phone.pdf for instructions.

Please be aware that Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on March 26, 2020 mandating a 14 day quarantine for travelers arriving from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or the City of New Orleans.
https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor-abbott-issues-executive-order-mandating-14-day-quarantine-for-travelers-arriving-from-new-york-tri-state-area-new-orleans2
 
According to SEVP, students currently outside of the United States and looking to enter the country should “check on any travel restrictions their country might have regarding international travel, including restrictions applicable to countries they may travel through.”

The United States has placed restrictions on nonimmigrants from entering the United States who have been in United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe (Schengen Area), Iran or China within the last 14 days of the scheduled time to enter the United States. Also, the United States has restricted travel to and from Canada and Mexico to only essential travel. Other countries have travel restrictions that can affect travel plans, please monitor any country you are considering traveling to for updates.

If you are planning on returning to the United States, be sure to follow all the Texas A&M University instructions about reporting your travel and self-isolation.  https://www.tamu.edu/coronavirus/

If you plan on returning to the United States, be sure to get a travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019. You can complete the Travel Request form and submit to iss@tamu.edu. We will print a new I-20 or DS-2019 and sign it for travel. A travel signature is not needed to depart from the U.S., but it is needed to return to the U.S. You can find more information on travel signatures here: http://iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/F-1-Status#2-TravelandVisaRenewal
 
The answer to this question depends on the individual. Some steps you should take when questioning if you should leave should include the following:

First, visit the Texas A&M University Coronavirus Update page at https://www.tamu.edu/coronavirus/.

The messages from Texas A&M University are posted there and the main Frequently Asked Questions contains a Travel Guidance section.  This section contains the latest updates regarding Texas A&M University policy related to international travel to countries affected by COVID-19.

Second, monitor the news about any travel restrictions to the country you plan on visiting.  Be sure to check on any countries you will pass through.  There may be restrictions for persons coming from the United States.

Third, plan to monitor the CDC Travel Alert levels while you are outside the United States.  If the country or countries you are visiting change to a CDC Level 2 or 3, you will need to follow the instructions provided by the University regarding reporting your travel and any isolation requirements upon your return.

Fourth, make sure your immigration documents are in order and signed for travel.

Finally, determine if the travel is necessary.  The travel situation around the world is changing quickly.  Use some of the following criteria to help you determine the risk in traveling.
  • The expiration date of your I-20 or DS-2019.
  • The validity of your visa and your passport.
  • Do you have to apply for a new visa to enter the United States?  Will you be able to continue your academic program if there is a delay in receiving the visa or if the Embassy closes because of COVID-19?
  • Can you financially afford to be outside the United States for an extended time, especially if you will be in a third country?
  • Do you have an academic reason to be returning to the United States?
  • Are you on Optional Practical Training or Academic Training?
  • Is the travel worth the possibility of a delay in your academic program or work authorization?
  • Are there travel restrictions from the United States government to any of the areas you will travel?
  • Are there travel restrictions from where you will be leaving?
If you are on F or J status and have D/S on your I-94, then you can remain in the United States with an expired visa as long as you are maintaining your F or J status.

The Department of State is temporarily suspending all visa appointments at U.S. Embassies and Consulates as of March 20, 2020. You can find more information on this here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/suspension-of-routine-visa-services.html

Please check the status of visa issuance at the Embassy or Consulate you plan on using, https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/list-of-posts.html

Keep in mind that travel conditions can change with little notice and can affect your ability to return to the United States or to receive a visa.  

Please use the official State Department website to get the most accurate updates on visa delays and United States’ Embassy closures. You can find individual listings of each country here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html
 
  • If you are maintaining F-1 status, such as enrolling full-time (it is temporarily permitted for F-1 and J-1 students to enroll full-time in on-line classes) and making normal progress in your course of study, then you are considered maintaining your immigration status and ISS will keep your SEVIS record Active. If you are not graduating in Summer 2020, summer is a vacation period if you intend to return for Fall semester. Your SEVIS record should remain Active if you are outside of the U.S. during the summer.
    • The 5 months temporary absence provision will not apply to you
  • Please note that if you fall out of status or withdraw from the University, then your SEVIS record will not be “Active” and you would need to apply for new immigration document before you return to US.
    • The 5 months temporary absence provision may apply to you. Please contact ISS prior to your return
We understand this is a difficult time for everyone. If you intend to withdraw from classes and leave the United States, be sure to contact your academic department and follow all university procedures to initiate the withdraw process. You will also need to complete the Authorized Early Withdraw (AEW) with ISS.  iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/F-1-Status#2-AuthorizedEarlyWithdrawal
 
According to the latest SEVP guidance updated on 5/12/2020:

“This is a complex issue that SEVP is addressing within the larger context of the DHS response to the COVID-19 emergency. “

Unfortunately, there is no new government guidance allowing any sort of exceptions. Departing the US before the grace period ends is the best option. Please feel free to reach out to your home country’s Embassy or Consulate in the US for assistance.

If you have difficulty to depart the US before your grace period ends, please consult an experienced immigration attorney for assistance. Information on how to locate an immigration attorney can be found at Finding an Immigration Attorney within our resources page located at https://iss.tamu.edu/Resources/Finding-an-Immigration-Attorney .
Email iss@tamu.edu and an advisor will contact you to discuss your immigration status and options available to you.

Also, contact your academic department and report your travel to the Texas A&M University travel portal. More information is located at https://www.tamu.edu/coronavirus/.
 


Employment

This section includes information about on-campus employment, Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training.
 
The COVID-19 outbreak affected my job, what should I do if…?  
  • Please remember ISS is actively seeking government guidance on issues regarding F and J employment.   
  • The answers below are subject to change.   
  • Please make sure you follow the existing immigration regulations until new government guidance is published.   
It is extremely important that you fully understand how COVID-19 is affecting your job so that ISS and others can best assist you with your questions. ISS recommends that you contact your employer to find out exactly what is going on with your employment. The more clarification you receive from your employer, the better able ISS will be to answer your questions. Please ask the following questions directly to your supervisor or a Human Resources (HR) representative:
  • Will you receive any written notification from your employer about how your employment is impacted or how your employment is changing?
  • Did you get "laid off" or fired?  This means you are no longer employed and do not have the expectation of returning to the same job.
  • Did your employer ask you to work from home?  If so, since when?
  • Did your employer ask you to participate in a furlough program?  If so, will you still be considered an employee while on furlough?  Will you continue to work at a reduced amount during the furlough?  Is it expected that your job will resume once the furlough period ends?  How many hours a week will you be working while you are furloughed? 
  • Are you being placed on temporary leave based upon your employer’s leave policy? 

The Student Exchange Visitor Program has updated their FAQ "Can F students engage in remote work for on-campus employment?"

"If the current on-campus employment opportunity has transitioned to remote work or the employment can be done through remote means, students may continue to engage in on-campus employment remotely. Schools should be able to explain how the students are providing services associated with the employment while not at the location of the employer."
 
F-1 and J-1 students are still limited to a maximum of 20 hours per week for on-campus employment during major semesters. J-1 students must still obtain authorization from ISS prior to working on-campus. Please refer to the following webpages for further information:

F-1 Students: http://iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/F-1-Status/F-1-On-and-Off-Campus-Employment
J-1 Students: http://iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/J-1-Status/J-1-Students
Yes, it is possible. Please check with your hiring department to make sure that there are not any issues such as export controls.

Currently, the only guidance from SEVP is that you need to update your location of where you are working.  To do so, please complete the Report Change to CPT Employment program in Terra Dotta at http://tamu-iss.terradotta.com/index.cfm?FuseAction=Students.Apply&Program_ID=10128

Please also contact your academic department and notify them about this change to your CPT employment.

ISS will make the determination if any updates need to be made in SEVIS or on the I-20. 

According to SEVP’s guidance:
Students may engage in CPT during their time abroad, provided they are:
  1. Enrolled in a program of study in which CPT is integral to the program of study;
  2. Authorized for CPT in advance of the CPT start date; and
  3. Either the employer has an office outside the United States or the employer can assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives electronically. As noted in SEVP’s March 13, 2020, COVID-19: Guidance for SEVP Stakeholders, this enrollment may be online. All other requirements at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i) still apply.
Please send an email to iss@tamu.edu and also contact your academic department to notify them about this change to your CPT employment.

CPT is authorization is for one employer at a specific location for a set period of time. If you happen to end your CPT earlier than expected, please contact ISS so we can update the employment information in SEVIS for you.   

  • Please also contact your academic department and notify them about this change to your CPT employment. 

​ISS will make the determination if any updates need to be made in SEVIS or on the I-20. 

It depends on what your employer’s furlough program looks like.  Furlough is “a usually temporary layoff from work.”  Some employers use the term furlough to reduce the number of hours an employee is working.   

  • Contact your employer to ask the questions listed above so you fully understand how your employer interprets the term ‘furlough.’  

  • Contact ISS and forward us the decision made by you and your employer in writing.   

  • ISS may or may not update the CPT information based on your working hours.   

  • Please also contact your academic department and notify them about this change to your CPT employment.

  

If you were previously working full-time on CPT (that is, over 20 hours per week) and now you are working part-time (that is, 20 hours per week or less), please complete the Report Change to CPT Employment program in Terra Dotta at http://tamu-iss.terradotta.com/index.cfm?FuseAction=Students.Apply&Program_ID=10128

Similarly, if you were previously working part-time (that is, 20 hours per week or less) and now you are working full-time on CPT (that is, over 20 hours per week), please complete the Report Change to CPT Employment program in Terra Dotta at http://tamu-iss.terradotta.com/index.cfm?FuseAction=Students.Apply&Program_ID=10128

Please also contact your academic department and notify them about this change to your CPT employment.

ISS will make the determination if any updates need to be made in SEVIS or on the I-20. 

All CPT courses must remain on student's degree plans and shown as a required course. Students who wish to pursue the S/U grading option for their CPT courses must first verify with their academic departments if a grade of S/U will satisfy degree requirements.

Please be advised that students who receive a U grade or a failing grade in their internship course may result in negative immigration ramifications if that course cannot remain on your degree plan as a required course. 
On the CPT Student Form and CPT Employer Form, you are asked to provide the “Physical Address of Student’s Employment Location” and this address should reflect where you will physically conduct the CPT work. If you will be working from home, then this address should be your home address. It is strongly recommended that you obtain something in writing from your employer to confirm your plan to work remotely, and this confirmation should be included with your CPT application to ISS. This clarification could be included in your offer letter, on your CPT Employer Form, provided as a separate document from your employer, or even sent to you via email from your employer. Without this clarification, the ISS advisor may need to reach out to you to obtain this clarification, which delay your CPT processing.
 
Please submit an updated CPT Student Form as well as documentation from your employer to confirm the new employment location to iss@tamu.edu with your full name and UIN.  Indicate in the email that you are requesting a change to your pending CPT application.  ISS can accept clarification from your employer through a new offer letter, a new CPT Employer Form, a separate document composed by your employer, or even an email from your employer.
 
If you have been authorized to work at your employer’s address and now you will be working remotely, please submit the “Report Change to CPT Employment” program in Terra Dotta at http://tamu-iss.terradotta.com/index.cfm?FuseAction=Students.Apply&Program_ID=10128. If you have been authorized to work remotely and now you want to begin working at your employer’s address, you will need to submit an updated CPT Student Form as well as documentation from your employer to confirm the new employment location to iss@tamu.edu with your full name and UIN.  Indicate in the email that you are requesting a change to your approved CPT.  ISS can accept clarification from your employer through a new offer letter, a new CPT Employer Form, a separate document composed by your employer, or even an email from your employer.
 
If your CPT ends prior to the authorized end date, please take the following actions.  If possible, try to submit this program before your last day of CPT employment or as soon as possible after your last day of CPT employment.
  1. Complete the CPT Termination Notification program in Terra Dotta at http://tamu-iss.terradotta.com/index.cfm?FuseAction=Students.Apply&Program_ID=10131.
  2. Contact your academic department to notify them about this change to your CPT employment.
If your CPT ends before it even begins, and you do not work any hours with your approved CPT employer, please take the following actions. If possible, try to submit this program before your authorized 1st date of CPT employment or as soon as possible after your authorized 1st date of CPT employment.
  1. Complete the CPT Termination Notification program in Terra Dotta at http://tamu-iss.terradotta.com/index.cfm?FuseAction=Students.Apply&Program_ID=10131.
  2. Contact your academic department to notify them about this change to your CPT employment.
If your offer for CPT employment is rescinded or you have chosen not to work for your CPT employer, you will need to cancel the CPT application that is pending with ISS. To do so, please send an email to iss@tamu.edu with your full name and UIN and indicate that you are requesting to cancel your pending CPT application.  If you have documentation from your employer that explains why you need to cancel your pending CPT application, please include that in the email.
 

You will request the OPT/STEM OPT recommendation from ISS by email (iss@tamu.edu). Once you receive the I-20 from ISS, you will mail your application to USCIS through normal procedures. ISS does not know how the pandemic will affect USCIS processing times. You can check on the USCIS COVID-19 response at https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/uscis-response-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19.
 
USCIS adjudicates I-765 applications https://www.uscis.gov/i-765. On Page 4 of Form I-765, it clearly states the applicant “must file Form I-765 while in the United States.”

International packages are subject to different screening procedures when going through the US Custom, which may take longer than domestic delivery and you may miss the different filing windows due to various factors.

It is not recommended to submit the I-765 application from abroad. Please see the following screen shot from Page 4 of the I-765 for the statement referenced above.




 

According to the latest SEVP guidance updated on 5/12/2020:

“Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely if their employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means.

Students participating in STEM OPT do not need to submit an updated Form I-983 to report remote work. However, requirements to submit an updated Form I-983 for other changes remain in effect.”

If you are working remotely inside or outside of the US during OPT or STEM OPT, you do not have to report the change to ISS or submit anything.

For students who are on 12-Month Post Completion OPT who need to report other employment changes, please review reporting requirements at http://iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/F-1-Status/Optional-Practical-Training#0-OPTEmploymentReportingForm

For students who are on STEM OPT extension, you are still required to finish time-based and event-based reporting. For more information about STEM reporting, please check http://iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/F-1-Status/Optional-Practical-Training/OPT-STEM-Extension#0-ReportingRequirementswhileonSTEMOPT

According to the latest SEVP guidance updated on 5/12/2020:

“Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely if their employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means.

Students participating in STEM OPT do not need to submit an updated Form I-983 to report remote work. However, requirements to submit an updated Form I-983 for other changes remain in effect.”

If you are working remotely inside or outside of the US during OPT or STEM OPT, you do not have to report the change to ISS or submit anything.

For students who are on 12-Month Post Completion OPT who need to report other employment changes, please review reporting requirements at http://iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/F-1-Status/Optional-Practical-Training#0-OPTEmploymentReportingForm

For students who are on STEM OPT extension, you are still required to finish time-based and event-based reporting. For more information about STEM reporting, please check http://iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/F-1-Status/Optional-Practical-Training/OPT-STEM-Extension#0-ReportingRequirementswhileonSTEMOPT
According to the latest SEVP guidance updated on 5/12/2020:

“This is a complex issue that SEVP is addressing within the larger context of the DHS response to the COVID-19 emergency. “

Unfortunately, there is no new government guidance allowing any sort of exceptions. Departing the US before the grace period ends is the best option. Please feel free to reach out to your home country’s Embassy or Consulate in the US for assistance.

If you have difficulty to depart the US before your grace period ends, please consult an experienced immigration attorney about changing to another visa status within the United States. Information on how to locate an immigration attorney can be found at Finding an Immigration Attorney within our resources page located at https://iss.tamu.edu/Resources/Finding-an-Immigration-Attorney .

SEVP Definition of Unemployment Time 

“The total time spent without a qualifying job during post-completion OPT. Except as noted in the section on what counts as time unemployed, each day that the student is not employed in a qualifying job is counted toward the limit on unemployment time. The limit is 90 days for students on post-completion OPT, including those with a cap gap extension, except that students with an approved 17-month extension* are given an additional 30 days of unemployment time for a maximum of 120 days.”  *This guidance was written before changing to the 24- month STEM OPT Extension  

How many hours does a student need to work per week during post completion OPT (including the 17-month extension) to be considered employed? 

 “A student must work at least 20 hours per week in a qualifying position to be considered employed. If a student has a variable schedule, within a month, it should average out to at least 20 hours per week.” 

See Sections 7.2.1 and 7.2.2 for qualified employment at  https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/opt_policy_guidance_042010.pdf 

 

What counts as time unemployed?  

“Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. OPT authorization begins on the employment start date shown on the student’s EAD.” 

See Sections 7.2.1 and 7.2.2 for qualified employment at  https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/opt_policy_guidance_042010.pdf 

As long as you are working at least 20 hours per week, you are not accruing unemployment time.

SEVP has further stated in their Frequently Asked Questions (https://www.ice.gov/coronavirus) that "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."

If your work hours are reduced to 0, you may be accruing days of unemployment (see next question).

Layoff is “the act of dismissing employees, especially temporarily or a period of enforced unemployment or inactivity.”  Layoffs can be permanent as well.  The time you spend not employed counts toward the unemployment time. 

Be sure to do your required reporting for OPT. 

  • Report the end of employment in the SEVP Portal within 10 days. 

  • Follow the ISS OPT Employment Reporting Requirements within 10 days. 

It depends on what your employer’s furlough program looks like.  Furlough is “a usually temporary layoff from work.”  Some employers use the term furlough to reduce the number of hours an employee is working.  As long as you are working at least 20 hours a week, you are not accruing unemployment time.  If you are working less than 20 hours a week or not at all, then you need to determine if you are on a leave status with the employer.  If you are on an approved leave status, then you may not be accruing unemployment.  There is not specific guidance from SEVP or USCIS regarding OPT and furloughs. 

If you are working less than 20 hours per week and are not on approved leave, then be sure to do your required reporting for OPT. 

  • Follow the ISS OPT Employment Reporting Requirements within 10 days. 

It depends on the state you were working in and many other criteria.  For example, the Texas Workforce Commission states: 

Citizenship or Work Authorization 

If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits if you are: 

  • Legally residing in the U.S. 

  • Authorized to work in the U.S.: 

  • At the time you earned your base-period wages 

  • When you apply for benefits 

  • While requesting benefits 

ISS will not be able to determine if you are eligible for unemployment benefits.  Please check with the appropriate government agency in the state you are located. 

According to the latest SEVP guidance updated on 5/12/2020:

“DHS is evaluating this issue but has not yet determined whether to implement a specific exemption for exceeding the regulatory limits for unemployment of 90 days for OPT and 150 days for STEM OPT.”

In short, we must follow the existing rules about unemployment during OPT and STEM OPT:
During standard post-completion OPT, a student may not be unemployed for an aggregate of more than 90 days.

If a student receives a 24-month STEM OPT extension, the limit on unemployment is raised to an aggregate of no more than 150 days, applied to the entire period of standard post-completion and STEM OPT.
 

The Department of State has not issued guidance related to this subject. Please consult with your employer or an experienced immigration attorney.  Information on how to locate an immigration attorney can be found at Finding an Immigration Attorney within our resources page located at https://iss.tamu.edu/Resources/Finding-an-Immigration-Attorney .
The Department of State has not issued guidance related to this subject. Please consult with your employer or an experienced immigration attorney.  Information on how to locate an immigration attorney can be found at Finding an Immigration Attorney within our resources page located at https://iss.tamu.edu/Resources/Finding-an-Immigration-Attorney .


New International Students

Texas A&M University will not be issuing I-20s and DS-2019s to newly admitted students for the summer 2020 semester if the students are currently located outside the United States. This change is based upon guidance that has been received from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security because of the current COVID-19 situation. Students admitted to the 2020 summer term, who are outside the United States, are encouraged to defer their attendance to the fall 2020 or spring 2021 semesters.

Current guidance from Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) states: “If Initial students have not arrived in the United States, they should remain in their home country.” The United States Embassies and Consulates are not processing non-essential visas at this time. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/suspension-of-routine-visa-services.html.


International students admitted for the summer 2020 term who plan to transfer their current F-1 status from another U.S. institution to Texas A&M are now able to apply for their Transfer Form I-20 using the "Transfer I-20 Request" program in Terra Dotta. More information about this program can be found at http://iss.tamu.edu/Prospective-Students/You-are-Admitted-Now-What.

International students admitted for the summer 2020 term who plan to enroll in a status other than F-1 or J-1 are now able to submit their Check-In program through ISS Terra Dotta and request to have the ISS Registration Hold removed. Please visit http://iss.tamu.edu/Prospective-Students/Check-In for details.

The Terra Dotta programs are not yet available for students who plan to enroll in J-1 status, but ISS will send an email when these additional programs are available.

Students who are admitted for the summer 2020 semester are being asked to review the different scenarios below, which describe how ISS recommends that the student works with their department and ISS. These scenarios are only for new students admitted to Summer 2020 semester.

Scenario 1: Student is currently inside the United States and will be transferring their F-1 status to Texas A&M University

  • The student submits a Transfer I-20 Request program in Terra Dotta to apply for a Transfer I-20. This program is now live and accepting applications. Please visit http://iss.tamu.edu/Prospective-Students/You-are-Admitted-Now-What for details.
  • The student remains inside the United States and does not travel outside the United States between programs.
  • In May, the student must complete a Check-In program through Terra Dotta after the I-20 has been issued in order to have the ISS registration hold removed. Please visit http://iss.tamu.edu/Prospective-Students/Check-In for details.
Scenario 2: Student is currently outside the United States, will begin courses online for 2020 summer term, and plans to enter the U.S. to enroll in-person starting in the Fall 2020 term.
  • In order to have the ISS Registration Hold removed so the student can enroll for the Summer 2020 term, the student and academic department should follow the procedures explained at http://iss.tamu.edu/Prospective-Students/Check-In#0-WhatifIamaDistanceEducationStudent%3F.
  • In addition, the student should submit an Initial I-20 Request program in Terra Dotta for the 2020 fall term.
    • When the United States embassies and consulates begin issuing visas again, the student applies for the visa
    • If the visa is issued before fall term begins, then the student would be able to come to the United States up to thirty days prior to their 1st class day, which for most students is August 24, 2020.
    • If Texas A&M University goes to online courses only for 2020 fall term, then the students will not be able to come to the United States for the fall term.
Scenario 3: Student will not enroll for online courses in 2020 summer term
  • The student will need to defer admission to 2020 fall term or 2021 spring term
  • The student will apply for the I-20 for the appropriate term

These scenarios are fluid. As the United States government continues to respond and change its response to COVID-19, the possibilities for students to arrive to the United States will change. As ISS continues to monitor the changes provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State, we will continue to provide students and departments with updates.

All international students admitted for the fall 2020 semester who plan to enroll in F-1 status are now able to apply for their Form I-20 through either the “Initial I-20 Request” or the "Transfer I-20 Request" program in Terra Dotta. More information about both of these programs can be found at http://iss.tamu.edu/Prospective-Students/You-are-Admitted-Now-What.

All international students admitted for the fall 2020 semester who plan to enroll in J-1 status are now able to apply for their Form DS-2019 through either the “Initial DS-2019 Request” or the "Transfer DS-2019 Request" program in Terra Dotta. More information about both of these programs can be found at http://iss.tamu.edu/Prospective-Students/You-are-Admitted-Now-What.

All international students admitted for the fall 2020 semester who plan to enroll in a status other than F-1 or J-1 are now able to submit their Check-In program through ISS Terra Dotta and request to have the ISS Registration Hold removed. Please visit http://iss.tamu.edu/Prospective-Students/Check-In for details.

As you are aware, COVID-19 responses are greatly affecting the visa processes and travel to the United States and around the world. While ISS will be issuing I-20s and DS-2019s, please keep in mind the following:
  • Current COVID-19 guidance from the United States government states, “If Initial students have not arrived in the United States, they should remain in their home country.” We expect this guidance to change for the fall semester, but we do not know when this will occur.  If it does not change for fall semester, we will let you know what that means for coming to the United States and enrolling for classes.
  • The United States Embassies and Consulates are not processing non-essential visas at this time. travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/suspension-of-routine-visa-services.html  
  • Texas A&M University is currently planning to conduct classes in person for fall semester. Our spring 2020 and summer 2020 semesters were transitioned to a fully online delivery, and if this method extends through fall semester it will impact our ability to issue Form I-20s for fall 2020 and for students to come to the United States.


International Student Services Office Operations

International Student Services stands with our international students and will provide support and adjust guidance as needed due to the fluid nature of this difficult situation. This FAQ page will be monitored and updated as frequently as possible, but answers are subject to change as the situation COVID-19 virus evolves.

Effective, Monday, March 23, 2020, International Student Services (ISS) will be open, but the ISS front counter will be closed at least through April 30, 2020.  Please read all the questions and answers regarding interacting with ISS and receiving documentation.

As part of the ISS staff transition to working from home, we will temporarily not be scheduling specific appointment times. ISS encourages students to email iss@tamu.edu with questions or call 979-845-1824 (M-F: 8 am to 5 pm CST).

Students will still be able to submit questions and requests to iss@tamu.edu. The advisor will then respond to the questions by email or by phone. If the student requests that an advisor call them, the advisor will coordinate with the student for the call.

This is a new process that ISS had to build quickly and there may be some unforeseen issues. We are evaluating how to use Zoom for appointments, ways to have virtual face-to-face meetings with students and even have a virtual front counter. We will share more updates as we have them. Your patience and understanding is greatly appreciated.

Since emails are the primary way of communication, we are expecting an overflow of emails. For us to best assist you, please do the following:
  1. General guidance
    • Always include UIN and your full name
    • Do not use words such as urgent or emergency
    • Do not send multiple emails
    • Please submit documents in PDF format
  2. If you are submitting a request, make sure you include that request name in the email.
  3. Make sure your request includes all the correct documents and all forms are filled out correctly. Most forms we receive are missing key information to process the request.
  4. If you are checking the status of a request, please make sure you include the name of that request which you are checking on.
  5. If you are providing the mailing option, please be sure to include either the regular mailing address or an order number from E-ship Global.
  6. If you are asking questions, please number the questions separately.
  7. If you are requesting an appointment, please list your specific issues that you are dealing with. (The more specific the better).
  8. Make sure your student local physical address is up-to-date. Visit http://iss.tamu.edu/ISS/media/ISS-Files/ISS-PDF/Current%20Students/Updating-Your-Local-Address-Phone.pdf for instructions.
  9. Make sure you don’t have HOLDs on your account.
  10. Make sure you check your Texas A&M University email regularly. ISS advisors will contact you if your request is incomplete and additional actions are needed.
Rather than turning in paper documents, students will submit their applications and documentation via email to iss@tamu.edu. Please use pdf format. ISS staff will create a record in Terra Dotta on each student’s behalf to track the processing of their request. The students will receive an email within 24 hours after the record is created in Terra Dotta. The record will be assigned to an advisor for processing. 

After the student receives the email, they will be able to see the submitted application and upload any missing documents to the record by logging into Terra Dotta. Instructions for how to log in to Terra Dotta can be found at http://iss.tamu.edu/Side-Menu/TerraDotta#2-HowtologintoISS-TerraDotta.  
 
The advisor will contact the student if they need any additional information to their Texas A&M University email account.  If the student is contacted by the advisor or something is missing from their application, the student should upload any requested document into the Terra Dotta record.  DO NOT email the additional documents. 
 
Students and staff will not be able to pick up documents at the ISS front counter. In each Terra Dotta record, there will be a questionnaire for mailing options if the student needs an I-20, DS-2019, or any other document mailed to them.  If you have further questions regarding your mailing options, you can check out our website here: iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/I-20-DS-2019-Mailing-Options
 
If you are experiencing an emergency, first ensure your safety then call our office at 979-845-1824. If the call is after hours, press one for ISS, press zero and then zero again when prompted.  You will be taken to the after-hours call service.)  Emergencies consist of being stuck at the border or being detained by immigration.  More information about informing ISS about an emergency can be found at iss.tamu.edu/Current-Students/Safety-Information/Informing-ISS-about-an-Emergency
 


International Student Services Programing

ISS had to cancel our in-person OPT and CPT workshops as well as our Tax Assistance Days. Instead, we will be hosting webinars. Please visit the following webpages for details:
http://iss.tamu.edu/Events/Optional-Practical-Training
http://iss.tamu.edu/Events/Curricular-Practical-Training
http://iss.tamu.edu/Events/Tax-Webinar
 
Travel Signature Days are canceled for the foreseeable future. Please refer to the Travel section of the FAQ if you have questions specifically on travel.  You can submit travel signature applications by email at iss@tamu.edu.