Traveling and Coronavirus


Last Updated March 27, 2020

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.

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 March 23, 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 requirement 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 on-line classes per semester toward full-time enrollment and J-1 students are not eligible to count any on-line classes to 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 on-line 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 requirement 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.
 
You will need to consult an immigration attorney about changing to another visa status within the United States.
 


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
 
You will need to consult an immigration attorney about changing to another visa status to remain legally within the United States.
 
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

Texas A&M University has informed SEVP that student employees may be working from home.  Please note that the Department of Homeland Security has not provided any guidance regarding on-campus work being performed at home.
Once classes restart on March 23, you can only work 20 hours per week.  You can work more than 20 hours a week during the extended Spring Break, March 16 through March 20 (spring break).   
Yes, it is possible. Please check with your hiring department to make sure that there are not any issues such as export controls.

CPT is authorization is for one employer at a specific location for a set period of time. If the current situation has impacted your CPT, please contact ISS immediately. We may need to update the employment information in SEVIS accordingly.

The Department of Homeland Security has not issued guidance related to this subject. Please consult with your employer or an experienced immigration attorney.
 
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.
CPT is authorization is for one employer at a specific location for a set period of time. If the current situation has impacted your CPT, please contact ISS immediately. We may need to update the employment information in SEVIS accordingly.
 

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.
 
The instructions to the I-765 state, “Certain foreign nationals who are in the United States may file Form I-765.”  We have not received guidance changing this statement.
The Department of Homeland Security has not issued guidance related to this subject. Please consult with your employer or an experienced immigration attorney.

However, if you must work from home, be sure to update your employment information including where you are working. Follow the normal procedures explained on the following ISS webpages:
The Department of Homeland Security has not issued guidance related to this subject. Please consult with your employer or an experienced immigration attorney.

Be sure to update your employment information as explained on the following ISS webpages:
You will need to consult an immigration attorney about changing to another visa status within the United States.
Please consult with your employer or an experienced immigration attorney.

If with your employer’s approval, it is possible to keep working remotely or outside of the United States as long as you update your employment information as explained on the following ISS webpages:

The Department of State has not issued guidance related to this subject. Please consult with your employer or an experienced immigration attorney.
The Department of State has not issued guidance related to this subject. Please consult with your employer or an experienced immigration attorney.


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 3, 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 emergncy, 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

We canceled our in-person OPT and CPT workshops and will be hosting webinars. The webinar schedule will be sent out at a later date.
 
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.