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Important Immigration Reminders and COVID-19 Information as Spring Semester Resumes, March 23

March 20, 2020

Dear International Undergraduate Students, 

As the “extended spring break” ends and the rest of the spring semester begins Monday, March 23, 2020, in a completely online/virtual environment, Cranwell International Center remains ready to be of assistance to you, while also adhering to all university and governmental directives, guidelines, and recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As previously communicated, Cranwell International Center will transition all immigration advising (appointments and walk-ins) for international undergraduate students to an online/virtual modality using Zoom, effective Monday, March 23, 2020. For more information, please go to https://international.vt.edu/immigration/virtualimmigrationadvising.html.

In these uncertain and unprecedented times, we understand that you will be facing many challenges as you manage aspects of your daily lives. We will continue to provide services to support you and help you meet immigration obligations. Please see below for some important reminders and updates regarding immigration regulations:

ADDRESS CHANGES

International students in F-1 visa status, like all other nonimmigrants in the United States, must update the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 10 days of a change of address. To comply with this regulation, you must update your address in Hokie Spa if you are still in the US and have moved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When you do this, the updated address will automatically be updated in the enterprise system that Cranwell International Center uses to interface with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), and will then also automatically be updated in SEVIS. 

Please note that if you remain in the US and change your address multiple times in the upcoming weeks and months, you must update your address in Hokie Spa each time your address changes. Again, federal regulations require you to update your address within 10 days of a change.

TRAVEL SIGNATURES

If you will be traveling outside of the US, you must have a “travel signature” by a Designated School Official (DSO) on your Form I-20 to facilitate your re-entry. The signature is valid for one year, so if you already have a signature on your Form I-20, please check the date to determine if you need a new one or not.

If you need a travel signature, please log into the Intl Hokies Portal and submit the "Travel Signature Request" E-form. Effective March 27, 2020, any new/updated Form I-20 that you need, pursuant to an immigration request you submit through the IntlHokies Portal, will be signed electronically and sent to you electronically at your VT email; it will not be printed for pick-up or mailing.

If you will be outside of the US for more than five months, please be sure to read the next section. You may need a completely new Form I-20 with a special annotation. 

RE-ENTRY TO US AFTER AN ABSENCE OF MORE THAN 5 MONTHS

Federal regulations allow an international student in F-1 visa status to be readmitted to the US after “a temporary absence of five months or less.” This has generally been interpreted to mean that after an absence of more than five months that is unconnected to study, a student could not be readmitted to the US to resume their F-1 status, but rather would have to enter with a new Form I-20 under a new SEVIS record, and would also have to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee again.

International students who leave the US and do not plan to return until the start of Fall semester may find themselves being absent from the US for more than five months; however, we will consider the time outside of the US from the time you depart until the end of the Spring semester to be an absence from the US that is “connected to study” since you will be completing the Spring semester online/remotely. As long as you remain enrolled full-time while you are outside of the US and completing your classes online/remotely, this time outside of the US will not count towards the absence of more than five months.

An International Student Advisor/Immigration Specialist will need to issue international students an updated Form I-20 that has the following annotation on it: 

“Student approved for Study Abroad program from 3/23/2020 to 5/15/2020 with authorized annual vacation immediately following from 5/16/2020 to 08/23/2020. Student will be enrolled full-time while participating in Study Abroad program.”

International undergraduate students may request an updated Form I-20 by logging into the IntlHokies Portal and submitting the "Replace or Reprint Form I-20" E-form. You will need to choose "Emergency Departure" as the reason for the request. You only need to submit this request if you will be absent from the US for more than five months. Should you submit this request, a travel signature will automatically be issued on the updated Form I-20, therefore an additional "Travel Signature Request" E-form submission is not required. 

OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT) 

If you are graduating this semester and planning to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), please be advised that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has not changed their regulation requiring students to apply for OPT while inside the US. 

  • If you have already departed the US at this time, you will be required to return before your program end date of May 15, 2020, in order to apply for OPT. Given the dynamic nature of current travel restrictions, this might not be possible and you would have to forfeit your OPT benefit. 
  • If you have already applied for OPT and wish to depart the US while your application is pending, please be advised that there are numerous risks involved that could jeopardize your OPT benefit. 

For more information about how to apply for OPT and the risks involved with traveling before or after applying, please visit our Optional Practical Training website. You may also schedule an online/virtual immigration advising meeting with an International Student Advisor/Immigration Specialist. For more information, please go to https://international.vt.edu/immigration/virtualimmigrationadvising.html.

OTHER IMMIGRATION ISSUES

There are many other immigration issues that you may need assistance with (e.g., extensions, reduced course loads, employment authorization, etc.), and Cranwell International Center stands ready to help. please do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or concerns. You can reach us via phone (+1.540.231.6527), email (international@vt.edu), or via an online/virtual immigration advising appointment (see https://international.vt.edu/immigration/virtualimmigrationadvising.html), Monday-Friday, 8:00 AM-5:00 PM.

IMPORTANT RESOURCES

The situation continues to change rapidly, so be sure to check VT’s COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) webpage frequently for the latest information and updates.