FAQ for Administrators
COVID-19 Visa Issuance and Travel Updates (updated 8/12/2020)
Administrators should be aware that scholars currently outside of the U.S. may be subject to various travel restrictions that make returning to or arriving in the U.S. difficult at this time. Please read below for more information:
Routine Visa Issuance Resuming on a Country by Country Basis
As of July 15, some U.S. Embassies and Consulates have started to resume routine visa services depending on the in-country situation. Please note that different embassies and consulates have different policies and procedures in place about reopening, and they are facing severe backlogs of applications that have accrued during their closures. All incoming students and scholars currently outside of the U.S. require a visa stamp issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country in order to enter the U.S. with, except for Canadian citizens. For specific information, please go to the website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country.
Presidential Proclamations Suspending Travel
At this time, individuals are prohibited from entering the U.S. from one of the countries listed on the CDC website.
A recent Department of State announcement has stated that J-1 scholars and student interns located in the UK, Ireland, or EU Schengen area may contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country to apply for a National Interest Exception (NIE) to the travel ban. These exceptions are being considered on a case by case, and country by country, basis.
There is no formal waiver process or exception yet for students located in China, Brazil, or Iran.
Travel from Canada and Mexico
Currently the land borders between the United States and Canada, and the United States and Mexico are closed for nonessential travel. Scholars and student interns with valid visa status are still eligible to enter the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. The Canadian/Mexican/US travel ban only applies to non-essential travelers via land borders. If scholars plan to re-enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico, the HIO recommends that they plan to enter the U.S. by booking a flight rather than driving.
Massachusetts Quarantine Requirements
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts (MA) has released updated travel guidance for out-of-state visitors. As this guidance is likely to change as circumstances evolve, you should continue to monitor the requirements until you arrive.
- Visitors, including residents, must complete the Massachusetts Travel Form prior to arrival, unless you are visiting from a lower-risk state designated by the Department of Public Health.
- Visitors, including residents, must quarantine for 14 days or produce a negative COVID-19 test result that has been administered up to 72-hours prior to your arrival in MA.
- Visitors into MA are exempt from the quarantine requirement if they have received a negative result from a COVID-19 test based on a sample obtained not longer than 72 hours before their arrival.
- Failure to comply may result in a $500 fine per day.
COVID-19 FAQ for Incoming Scholars and Student Interns
Q: If an incoming scholar already has their visa in their passport but have delayed their start date due to COVID-19 and the Harvard lab shutdown, how does this affect their visa and DS-2019?
A: The department will need to contact their HIO Advisor to see if they need to request an amendment of the scholar’s DS-2019 start date. The scholar can still use the visa that they have been issued in their passport, if the visa will not have expired by the time the scholar enters the U.S., with their amended DS-2019.
Q: What is a realistic start date for an incoming scholar?
A: The HIO recommends a start date of at least two months into the future or later, given the current COVID-19 travel restrictions and that U.S. Consulates and Embassies have temporarily suspended visa appointments worldwide. We do expect a backlog at the Embassies and Consulates as a result of the COVID-19 closures. As COVID-19 is a fluid situation, the recommended start date could change if visa appointments remain suspended. The scholar and the department should be prepared to potentially need to amend start dates if travel restrictions are still in place and visa delays occur.
When requesting sponsorship for incoming scholars, departments should consider these travel restrictions and determine when would be the most realistic start date for both the scholar and for the department to onboard a new appointee.
Q: What if a student or scholar is currently staying in another country and cannot return to their home country to attend a visa appointment?
A: If a student or scholar cannot go back home to their country of citizenship to apply for the visa, then they should inquire with the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate, as to whether that Embassy or Consulate will accommodate third country nationals for student or scholar visa appointments. Please refer students to contact their HIO Advisor.
Q: Our department would like to hire an individual who is currently on a H or J at another company/university. Are we able to sponsor this individual’s appointment without them having to leave the country?
A: Yes, this is generally permissible if the scholar has not reached the maximum duration of their visa category. For J-1 Research Scholars, this is five years, and for H-1B visa holders, this is six years. Please be in touch with your HIO Advisor for a case by case determination.
Q: Can a new faculty member work remotely from outside the U.S., while they wait for their H-1B visa to be approved?
A: A working group of Central Administration offices is regularly reviewing and updating payroll guidance during the COVID-19 public health emergency. See the initial payroll guidance based on worker type and location on the Office of the Controller’s website. The working group will revise this guidance as additional federal, state, and country guidance is issued. Global Support Services (GSS) is available to consult with Harvard departments and programs on their options for employing and paying individuals who intend to work from abroad. If you have questions, please contact your GSS consultant or e-mail Global Support Services.
Q: Who should department administrators be entering into HIO’s ISD database?
A: All initial scholars should be entered in ISD, regardless of sponsorship or visa category. The main purpose of ISD is to efficiently create initial scholar records. Therefore, all scholar visa categories should be entered into ISD so that we can sync their information with ISSM (the HIO database).
Examples of scholars that should be entered into ISD:
- Harvard-sponsored J scholars and J student interns (most common)
- Other visa types sponsored by Harvard (e.g. TNs, H-1Bs, O-1s, E-3s)
- Scholars sponsored by other institutions (e.g. Fulbright J scholars, scholars on F-1 OPT from another institution, scholars on J-1 Academic Training from another institution)
- F-1 students on CPT from another institution
- F-1 students on STEM OPT sponsored by another institution
- J-2s with EADs
As a reminder, the ISD Manual is also a great resource for other data entry questions.
COVID-19 FAQ for Current Scholars and Student Interns
Q: Is it possible for a scholar to leave the country and come back to the U.S., if their J-1 visa in their passport is expired but they have a valid DS-2019
A: A scholar must have a valid visa in their passport (except Canadians) to reenter the U.S. For a J-1 scholar to reenter the US, they must have in their possession the following documents: their most current DS-2019 with a valid travel signature, valid passport, valid J-1 visa (except Canadian citizens), and their I-901 SEVIS Fee payment receipt.
At this time, please keep in mind that international travel is not encouraged if a visa renewal is needed. U.S. Embassies and Consulates have temporarily suspended visa appointments worldwide. Please contact your HIO Advisor for questions about visa renewals and travel.
Q: Are there any visa ramifications for international scholars who traveled to their home countries to work remotely, while Harvard labs and departments are shut down?
A: Due to the current disruptions in travel and visa issuance, the Department of State has indicated J-1 Exchange Visitors may retain an active J-1 record until they are able to return to the United States to continue with his or her original program objectives.
Q: Given the current COVID-19 travel restrictions, how can a student or scholar renew their visa from inside the U.S.?
A: You cannot renew a visa from within the U.S. A visa is used solely for the purpose of entry and reentry to the U.S. The visa does not determine how long an individual may remain in the U.S. Therefore, an individual may stay beyond the expiration date of an F or J visa, if the student or scholar has a valid Form I-20 or DS-2019 with an expiration date into the future.
Q: Can a scholar renew his/her visa while they are currently outside the U.S.?
A: All U.S. Consulates and Embassies have temporarily suspended visa appointments. The scholar should contact their U.S. Consulate or Embassy in their home country to inquire about scheduling a future appointment, when the Consulate or Embassy resumes visa processing.
Q: Given the current COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, is it a good idea to extend DS-2019 end dates for scholars who are already here, provided there is funding and support of an academic appointment extension?
A: If the academic appointment can be extended and proof of funding can be provided, the department can decide if they would like to move forward with an extension request.
For all academic appointment extensions, please submit the following documents to the HIO via email. The HIO recommends submitting extension requests at least 30 days prior to the individual’s current end date.
- Reminders: Please provide the dates of the extension, the funding for the duration of the extension only, and include the hours per week that the scholar will be at their site of activity.
- While the HIO staff works remotely due to the COVID 19 pandemic, we will not be sending out the Form DS-2019 to you or the scholar unless a FedEx is provided with the NED. If a FedEx is not provided, the Form DS-2019 will be mailed to the department or will be available for pickup once the University resumes working on campus.
J-1 Student Intern Extensions:
- In addition to the above documents, J-1 Student Intern extension requests must also include a recent Certificate of Enrollment from the intern’s college/university abroad and an updated J-1 Student Intern Intake Form signed by the internship supervisor.
Visa Category Maximum Durations:
- J-1 Research Scholar/Professor: J-1 visa holders in the Research Scholar or Professor category may remain in the United States (U.S.) for up to five years.
- J-1 Short-Term Scholar: J-1 visa holders in the Short-Term Scholar category may remain in the U.S. for up to six months.
- J-1 Student Intern: J-1 visa holders in the Student Intern category may remain in the U.S. for up to twelve months. J-1 Student Interns cannot be extended beyond their graduation date at their current university/college abroad.
- H-1B: An individual may hold H-1B visa status for a maximum stay of six years.
- O-1: An individual may hold O-1 visa status for up to three years initially, and may be extended in one-year increments.
Q: If a student or scholar is moving from one visa type to another within the U.S., can they remain in the U.S. until this application is approved?
A: Before moving forward with a I-539 Change of Status application, students and scholars should discuss the time sensitive application process with their HIO Advisor.
Q: How can administrators post LCA postings for H1B requests, while University buildings and offices are closed due to COVID-19?
A: LCA postings are now done electronically as well as in physical spaces. If you have an administrator who is working in their office, we will continue to send a posting sheet if requested. If you are working remotely, your LCA will be posted here. Online LCA postings are limited to Harvard proper, and are not available to the Harvard affiliated hospitals.
Q: How does the University pay graduate students who are now working as Teaching Fellows and Teaching Assistants from outside the U.S., given the COVID-19 travel restrictions?
A: A working group of Central Administration offices is regularly reviewing and updating payroll guidance during the COVID-19 public health emergency. See the initial payroll guidance based on worker type and location on the Office of the Controller’s website. The working group will revise this guidance as additional federal, state, and country guidance is issued. Global Support Services (GSS) is available to consult with Harvard departments and programs on their options for employing and paying individuals who intend to work from abroad. If you have questions, please contact your GSS consultant or e-mail email@example.com.
Q: Will an H-1B scholar’s approval notice expire if that scholar is currently outside the U.S. and cannot travel due to COVID-19 travel restrictions?
A: The scholar should verify the end date of their I-797 approval notice. The department will need to contact their HIO Advisor if they would like to extend the H-1B sponsorship.
Q: Can employment contracts still be extended for current O-1 and H-1B Harvard employees?
A: Yes, if the hiring department can obtain authorization for a renewed academic appointment and employment contract, it is still possible for HIO to process the O-1 or H1B petitions. The department should contact their HIO Advisor as soon as possible, to start the extension process.
Q: What information or resources can be provided to Asian students and scholars who are facing discrimination or racism related to COVID-19?
A: The University and its schools have policies against racial discrimination and procedures for handling such incidents. You can also contact the Anonymous Reporting Hotline, which is run by an independent, third-party provider, toll-free by calling 877- 694-2275 or submit a report online. The hotline is for reporting issues in situations where you don’t feel comfortable speaking with a supervisor or other resource. (Please read about the hotline to better understand the reporting process, including information regarding non-retaliation and confidentiality).
Q: To whom does the University provide visa sponsorship?
A: Generally speaking, the University provides visa sponsorship for those individuals with temporary academic appointments at University departments, such as postdoctoral researchers and faculty members.
Q: What do I do to start the visa sponsorship process once the PI decides to hire a postdoctoral fellow?
A: You need to use ISD to start the process of the visa paperwork. Please refer to the HIO’s ISD Manual for a guide to completing the record, and the required documents the HIO will need. If the scholar was at Harvard previously and already has a record in ISD, you will need to complete an eForm instead of using ISD. If you have never sponsored an international scholar you should contact your HIO Advisor.
Q: How do I know what visa to use for a new scholar?
A: There are many non-immigrant visa classifications. The categories used most at Harvard is the J-1 Exchange Visitor visa. The HIO advisor assigned to you will work with you to determine the appropriate visa classification.
Q: How much funding is required to bring in a scholar?
A: The required amount of funding may vary from school to school within the University. Please contact your HIO Advisor for guidance.
Q: Is it necessary to list the source(s) of funding in addition to the amount of funding?
A: Yes, since the source(s) of funding is used to determine whether a scholar is subject to the two year home residence requirement (212e).
Q: Who is responsible to vet the funding?
A: As a department administrator, it is your responsibility to verify the validity of funding for incoming scholars. If it is personal funding, you may want to require evidence such as a bank statement to verify that the amount of funding exists and is available for the scholar to use at Harvard.
Q. Are there any educational requirements for scholars?
A: In general, scholars must have at minimum a bachelor’s degree to qualify for visa sponsorship. If you are interested in bringing on an enrolled student in a bachelor’s degree program overseas, they may qualify for the J-1 Student Intern visa sponsorship.
Q: When do we need to notify the HIO about an incoming scholar?
A: For a J-1 visa, we require 60 days notice before a scholar's start date. For an H-1B visa it takes up to 6 months due to the government agency’s processing time.
Q: Who monitors the arrival dates of scholars?
A: It is your responsibility to communicate with incoming scholars to notify you if they will arrive later than the start date listed on the DS-2019. J-1 scholar must enter the U.S. within 30 days of the start date listed on the Form DS-2019. It is also your responsibility to notify your HIO advisor as soon as you know because the HIO may need to amend the DS-2019 and/or reissue the DS-2019.
Q: What do I do if the scholar decides not to come to the University at all?
A: You must notify the HIO immediately so we can notify the government.
Q: Once scholars arrive in my department, when should I send them to the HIO to register?
A: They should come to the HIO to register as soon as they arrive because the HIO must validate a J-1 scholar’s arrival with the U.S. government visa SEVIS within 30 days from the start date listed on the DS-2019 or their immigration status could be jeopardized.
Q: Is it important to return or send the eNED to the HIO in a timely fashion?
A: Yes because the HIO needs to take action based on the information you provide on the eNED.
Q: What type of things about a scholar do I need to notify the HIO?
A: You must notify the HIO advisor assigned to your department when:
- A scholar leaves the University earlier than the date on their DS-2019 or I-797.
- The PI wants to extend the appointment beyond the date on theDS-2019 or I-797.
- A scholar’s funding amount and/or source(s) change with the exception of annual cost of living increases.
- A scholar’s title or job description changes while on the H-1B visa.
- A scholar works in more than one location in or out of the University.
- A scholar’s job changes from full time to part time.
Q: Can I or a scholar use immigration attorneys to submit employment-based immigration petitions (e.g. H-1B, O-1 or green card)?
A: No. The HIO advising staff has the authority and responsibility to submit all employment-based petitions sponsored by Harvard University and is the only entity authorized to sign immigration petitions on behalf of the University. However, scholars may use immigration attorneys to file for green cards based on their own credentials and not based on their employment at Harvard. Department administrators and/or PIs should not sign any green card related forms presented by immigration attorneys.