HIO Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ

For department administrators at Harvard with questions for incoming or current international scholars or student interns, please see the HIO Administrator FAQ.

COVID-19 Visa Issuance and Travel Updates (updated 8/12/2020)

Students and 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 students with a valid F-1 visa may enter the U.S. from the EU Schengen area, UK, or Ireland, despite the travel ban. If you are coming from the Schengen area, the UK or Ireland and hold a valid F-1 visa, you should also print out the most recent Customs and Border Protection (CBP) guidance regarding the travel ban.  If you are questioned, you should be ready to show the guidance to a CBP officer at a port of entry.   J-1 students, scholars, and student interns in these countries must contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country to apply for a National Interest Exception (NIE) to the travel ban.

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. Students and scholars with valid F-1 orJ-1 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 you plan to re-enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico, the HIO recommends you plan to enter the U.S. by booking a flight rather than driving.  Even in the best of times, admission to the U.S. is always at the discretion of the border official. If you intend to enter the US from Canada or Mexico, you should ensure that you have all the required documents to enter the U.S. Information about what documents are required for re-entry to the U.S. are available on the HIO website here.

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.

Contacting the HIO (updated 8/12/2020)

Q. Is the HIO open?

A. The HIO is closed to walk-in advising and in-person appointments until further notice. All HIO staff and advisors are working remotely, and will be available via telephone and email, or for appointments via skype or zoom. Please contact your HIO Advisor directly with any questions or concerns. We will continue to send out updates and provide the most up-to-date information on our web site.  It is essential that you read any emails you receive from the University.

Q. Can I contact the HIO for a quick question?

A. An HIO Advisor-on-Call is available via Zoom Monday – Friday from 9:00 -10:00am and 4:00 - 5:00pm Eastern Standard Time. This service is offered via Zoom on a first-come, first-serve basis, and is intended for international students and scholars with quick questions.  For details on accessing the Advisor-on-Call waiting room during these times, please click here.

If you would like to set up a regular 30-minute appointment to speak with the HIO Advisor for your School or Department, you may make an appointment online or contact your HIO Advisor directly.

Q. How do I get a new travel signature, if my travel signature on my I-20 or DS-2019 will be expiring?

A. Contact your HIO advisor for weekly availability of in-person travel signatures at the Smith Campus Center.  The HIO can also issue you a new document with a new travel signature and ship it to you via FedEx. If you need a new I-20 or DS-2019 immediately, please follow the steps to purchase a FedEx label using eShipGlobal. 

Continuing Students and Transfer-in Students (updated 8/12/2020)

Travel and Visa Questions

Q. What is HIO's recommendation for current students looking to reenter the U.S. for the fall semester?

A. Recent governmental guidance has confirmed that continuing students with a valid visa and I-20/DS-2019 may reenter the U.S. for the fall semester. As you know, most instruction at Harvard this fall will be done remotely.  As a continuing student with an Active SEVIS record, you are permitted to return to the U.S. to resume your studies even if your program is 100% online. Since this rule does not apply to new students there has been some confusion at U.S. ports of entry.   If you are planning to return to Harvard for the fall semester, we advise you to print out the latest government guidance and highlight the section on continuing students.

Students should check to make sure that they have the required immigration documents for re-entry to the United States. In addition, if you are coming from the Schengen area, the UK or Ireland and hold a valid F-1 visa, you should also print out the most recent Customs and Border Protection (CBP) guidance regarding the travel ban.  If you are questioned, you should be ready to show the guidance to a CBP officer at a port of entry.   Please note that all other travel bans (China, Iran, Brazil) are still in effect.  Keep in mind that new travel bans could be added at any time in response to the pandemic. Please check the CDC website for the full up to date information before you travel to make sure your entry will not be impacted.

Students whose F-1 or J-1 visa stamps have expired should keep in mind that the U.S. Embassies and consulates are only beginning to reopen for routine visa issuance.  Different consulates have different policies and procedures in place about reopening, and they are facing severe backlogs of applications that have accrued during their closures. Students who decide to attempt visa renewal are encouraged to be as flexible as possible with their plans to return to the U.S.,and understand that their returns may be delayed.

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.   You must complete the Massachusetts Travel Form before you board your flight, unless you are coming from a lower-risk state designated by the Department of Public Health.  All 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.  Failure to comply may result in a $500 fine per day.

If an emergency arises at a port of entry, a student may call his/her assigned HIO Advisor or the HIO Travel Emergency phone number (857-302-3772). Students should also check on any Covid-19 travel restrictions the United States may have regarding international travel, including restrictions applicable to countries they may travel through.

Q. Is there any paperwork beyond our I-20 (and visa, depending on the country) that we should bring to the border when re-entering? i.e. a letter from Harvard or proof of exception from the travel ban?

A. F-1 students who are returning to the U.S. to continue their program of study should bring all the usually required documents to enter the U.S. Information about what documents are required for re-entry to the U.S. are available on the HIO website here

A letter from the university should not be required for entry to the U.S. The guidance from the government requiring remarks on the I-20 was rescinded through the lawsuit on July 15. If you are planning to return to Harvard for the fall semester, we advise you to print out the latest government guidance and highlight the section on continuing students.  If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact your HIO Advisor. 

Q. I am a continuing student and currently in my home country. I don’t need to come back to Harvard if courses are held online for fall 2020. I do need to look for an apartment before the spring semester starts. Will I be allowed to enter the U.S. in November if the pandemic has subsided?

A. Aside from any possible travel restrictions, you can return to the U.S. whenever it becomes possible if you are a continuing student with a valid I-20 and a valid F-1 entry visa and are registered for a full course of study. You may have to address questions concerning the nature of your visit and whether you are actually entering the U.S. for a legitimate academic purpose if you are only entering to search for an apartment. You cannot use a tourist visa to enter the U.S. for this purpose. You should consult with your HIO advisor concerning your specific travel plans.

Q. If I am currently located in the U.S., is it safe to leave the country or would it be better to stay put unless it's really necessary?

A. If you are currently located in the U.S., we do not recommend traveling abroad unless the trip is essential or an emergency. If you are outside the U.S. and looking to reenter from a country with a travel ban, please contact your HIO Advisor.

It is difficult to predict how travel and reentry may change in the coming months in response to the pandemic. If you are leaving the U.S. for the semester, at the very least you should check to make sure the travel signature on your Form I-20 or DS-2019 will be valid upon your return the U.S. If it will be more than 12 months old at the time of your reentry to the US, you should contact your HIO Advisor for an updated signature prior to departure.   It may be possible for you to arrange with your HIO advisor to obtain a travel signature from the HIO in the Smith Campus Center before you depart.

Q. Will the border closure between the US and Canada or US and Mexico impact my ability to enter the US as an F-1 visa holder? Will I be turned away at the border? Or does this border closure only apply to casual travelers?

A. Continuing students in F-1 and J-1 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 you plan to re-enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico, the HIO recommends you plan to enter the U.S. by booking a flight rather than driving.  Even in the best of times, admission to the U.S. is always at the discretion of the border official. If you intend to enter the US from Canada or Mexico, you should ensure that you have all the required documents to enter the U.S. Information about what documents are required for re-entry to the U.S. are available on the HIO website here.  If you are planning to return to Harvard for the fall semester, we advise you to print out the latest government guidance and highlight the section on continuing students.

Q. Are there any travel ban exceptions for students?

A. 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 students with a valid F-1 visa may enter the U.S. from the EU Schengen area, UK, or Ireland, despite the travel ban. If you are coming from the Schengen area, the UK or Ireland and hold a valid F-1 visa, you should also print out the most recent Customs and Border Protection (CBP) guidance regarding the travel ban.  If you are questioned, you should be ready to show the guidance to a CBP officer at a port of entry.  

J-1 students, scholars, and student interns in these countries must contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country to apply for a National Interest Exception (NIE) to the travel ban. There is no formal waiver process or exception yet for students located in China, Brazil, or Iran. There seems to be a great deal of inconsistency about how the NIE is being interpreted by Embassies around the world, and there is no guarantee that an NIE will be honored or issued. Please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy about applying for a National Interest Exemption.

Q. What do you recommend for students who are in a country that is on the US travel ban list? 

A. If you are currently residing in a country that has a travel ban to the U.S., one option is to wait until the travel ban has been lifted or an exemption has been provided. Another option is to travel to a third country not on a travel ban list, quarantine for 14 days, and then fly to the U.S. Keep in mind, however, that additional countries may be added to the travel ban list at any time without warning, due to the conditions on the ground. Many countries have also closed their borders for non-citizens or non-essential purposes. While this can be a strategy to get back to the U.S., it can also be costly, time consuming, and risky. We recommend reaching out to your HIO advisor before making any definitive plans.

Maintaining Status and Academics

Q. Is our visa status still valid even if we are studying remotely from a different country?

A. Yes. The current governmental guidance confirms that students are able to study remotely from outside of the U.S. and retain valid F-1/J-1 visa status, as long as you continue to be enrolled full time and make regular progress towards completion of your degree.

Q. Should F-1 students who leave the US during the summer or who are outside the U.S. for the Fall 2020 semester report their departure to HIO?

A. If you move to another location in the U.S. you must report any change of U.S. address to the HIO within ten days of the move.  There is no need to report your departure from the U.S. to the HIO. As you are preparing to return to the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status, please ensure that you have all the documents necessary for your re-entry to the U.S.  Information about what documents are required for re-entry to the U.S. are available on the HIO website here

Q. Could you clarify what the 5-month rule is and how it is calculated? The continued exception to the 5-month rule is "assumed". Is there any current indication from the government that it might revoke the exception?

A. The five-month rule refers to the termination of an F-1 student’s SEVIS record if the student has been outside of the U.S., out of legal status, or away from classes for five consecutive months. Under normal circumstances, the five-month rule prevents F-1 students from maintaining their valid F-1 status if they are spending more than five months outside of the U.S. during a leave of absence from school, unless they participated in an authorized study abroad program. Due to Covid-19, some continuing F-1 students left the United States to complete the spring term online, and their SEVIS records remained in active status. While the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, continuing F-1 students are deemed to be maintaining status if they are maintaining full-time student status and are making normal progress in their course of study, either in the United States, or outside the U.S.. The five-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(4) will not apply if global travel continues to be restricted.

Q. Does HIO recommend international students stay in the Cambridge area, in case in-person teaching or hybrid teaching resumes in the Spring?

A. Students are not required to stay in Cambridge, the greater-Boston area, or Massachusetts for the Fall 2020 semester while they are studying remotely.  Please note that the University has not made decisions about how the Spring 2021 semester will be administered.  Students may wish to keep their living situations as flexible as possible in the event that Harvard resumes in-person teaching or offers hybrid programming for the Spring 2021 semester. 

Q. Is it possible to study remotely from a different state?

A. Continuing International students may stay in the U.S. and choose to study remotely from a different state. Students must notify the HIO and their schools within 10 days of an address change.

Q.  Do you expect that the current policy permitting international students to complete a full load of credits from outside the United States will continue through Spring 2021? If not, how does the university expect to accommodate international students who (a) cannot return to the United States due to travel restrictions to continue their studies or (b) do not feel comfortable returning to the United States due to the pandemic and/or other personal reasons?

A. The current government guidance is in effect through the Fall 2020 semester.  We expect additional guidance to be issued prior to the Spring 2021 semester.  It is difficult to predict when the state of emergency will be lifted, and how the governmental guidance pertaining to international students will change. Harvard is continually monitoring the situation and is making decisions based on all the available information. 

Q. Can we expect that a new policy similar to the July 6 guidance be announced and/or in effect before or during the fall semester and potentially disrupt our studies?

A. While it is possible that new guidance could emerge if the U.S. government declares the state of emergency to be over, it is unlikely we would get new guidance for the fall 2020 semester. We are constantly monitoring the situation and expect additional guidance for the spring 2021 semester.

Q. Will my stay in the U.S. still be considered legal after the expiration of my visa? Can I still renew my Form I-20?

A. An F-1 or J-1 visa stamp is used solely for the purpose of entry and/or reentry to the U.S. The visa stamp does not determine how long an individual may remain in the U.S. Therefore, an individual may stay beyond the expiration date of a visa stamp as long as the visa document (Form I-20, Form DS-2019, or Form I-797) is valid.

Form I-20 and DS-2019 documents must remain valid while a student is enrolled in their academic program and continues to make progress towards their degree, or if the student is beginning a period of OPT or STEM OPT.  Form I-20 and DS-2019 documents usually require updating only if the person is changing their program, extending their program, or has substantial changes to their funding. Please note that I-20 and DS-2019 extension requests must be received by the HIO prior to the document expiration date. If you have questions about whether information on your document is valid, or requires an update, please contact your HIO advisor.

Q. When we eventually go back to the U.S. next school year--will we have to get a yearly signature mailed from the school for our visa to be valid upon arriving at US border?

A. Students must have a travel signature that is less than one year old at the time of re-entry to the U.S. If you need an updated travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019, we encourage you to contact your HIO advisor several weeks before your intended return to the U.S. to request a new I-20 or DS-2019 for your re-entry to the U.S.

Q. What are the pros and cons for taking a leave of absence? If taking a leave of absence, can the student stay in the US by transferring to another type of visa (e.g. B1/2)?

A. If you are taking a leave of absence, your F-1/J-1 SEVIS record will be terminated as of the date that your school considers the leave to go into effect. As of this date, you will have 15 days to depart the U.S. If you would like to return to the U.S. during your approved leave, you would need to do so on another visa status.

Please keep in mind that when you return from your leave of absence, you will be doing so on a new, initial status I-20 or DS-2019. As such, you will only be permitted to reenter the U.S. if your school is offering in-person classes for that semester.

For F-1 students, in order to be eligible to apply to work off-campus employment authorization such as CPT or OPT, you must be a full-time student for at least one academic year after you return from your leave of absence.

Please review the HIO Leave of Absence page for more information, and contact your HIO advisor for specific Leave of Absence (LOA) guidelines for your school.

Q. Will there be any time difference allowance for international students e.g. adjustments in section time or requirements for live attendance?

A. The University is very aware of the challenges faced by students in other time zones, and each School is working to accommodate students outside the Eastern Standard Time Zone in a number of ways. Please contact your specific school for information on what plans are in place for the Fall semester.

Q. Should F-1 students who plan to re-enter/stay in the U.S. for just part of the fall semester, but not the entire fall semester, obtain the full health insurance coverage for the fall semester (e.g. HUSHP)?

A. Students should discuss their decisions regarding health insurance with the HUSHP Member Services team.

Work Authorization: OPT, CPT, & AT

Q. Does time spent studying outside of the United States during the COVID-19 emergency count toward the one-year requirement for CPT and OPT?

A. An F student accrues eligibility for practical training whether they are inside or outside of the United States during the COVID-19 emergency if the student is in Active status in SEVIS and meets the requirements of their school’s procedural change plans submitted to SEVP.

Q. Can I apply for OPT outside the U.S.?

A. A. USCIS requires that F-1 students are physically located in the U.S. to apply for OPT. The application process for Post-Completion, or post-graduation, OPT begins 90 days prior to your program end date.

You can leave the U.S. while the application is pending.  You must provide a mailing address in the U.S. where USCIS can send any correspondence related to your application.  It is essential that this address be valid for 3-5 months and the person receiving the mail must be at that address to receive the mail and forward it to you.

Q. If I am in the U.S., can I submit my OPT or AT application to the HIO remotely?

A. Yes.  You can scan and email your application to your HIO advisor and pay the maintenance fee via Touchnet.  You must be in the U.S. in F-1 status, however, to submit the application to USCIS. You can submit your AT application via email even if you are not physically in the U.S.

Q. I used my friend’s address to have USCIS mail my EAD and now they are leaving campus/their apartment. What should I do?

A. You cannot use an international address.  You should locate another recipient within the U.S. Then you must update your mailing address with USCIS.

Q. I applied for OPT already.  Will I have a problem if I re-enter the U.S. before graduation?

A. You should not have a problem reentering the U.S. before graduation since your Form I-20 will still be valid.  Remember you must have all the required documents when reentering the U.S.  If you want to re-enter the U.S. after graduation, you must have your EAD, OPT approval from USCIS. A student who has graduated may not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. if the OPT application is still pending at USCIS.

Q. Can I still apply for CPT from outside the U.S.?

A. Yes.

Q. If I leave the U.S. for the rest of the semester, can I still apply for J-1 Academic Training from abroad?

A. Yes.  You can find information on applying for Academic Training on our website.  You must have a job offer and submit your application to the HIO within 30 days of graduation to qualify.

Stipends, Taxes, and Social Security

Q. Could you please provide guidance on whether current students who are abroad will continue receiving their stipend and will be able to TF/RA? Do you have a sense of what tax obligations these students may face?

A. Students who are abroad are eligible to continue receiving a Harvard stipend. Your department should coordinate with Global Support Services (GSS) if they have any questions about paying you while you work remotely from outside the U.S., or of the tax implications involved.

Q. Can I work as an undergraduate TF remotely (while enrolled in the college) without an SSN? Will this affect taxes next year in any way?

A. Yes, students may work remotely for Harvard University without an SSN. Individuals working without an SSN are taxed at a higher rate, so it is in your interest to apply for the SSN as soon as possible.  It is not possible to apply for a Social Security Number while outside the U.S.

Individuals who are working remotely from inside the U.S. should apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) through the nearest Social Security Administration Office as soon as possible.  Click here for information on how to apply for an SSN.

Most Social Security Offices are currently closed to the public, although we expect them to begin opening as local conditions allow. Some offices may allow individuals to apply for a Social Security Number via fax, and you should contact the nearest Social Security Administration office to see if this service is available.

Individuals who are working remotely from outside the U.S. are not eligible to apply for a Social Security Number.  The hiring department should work with Global Support Services to ensure that the students are set up properly in the Harvard payroll to have the appropriate taxes, if any, deducted from their paychecks.

Individuals who are unable to obtain an SSN during their employment will need to apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) when they submit their 2020 U.S. tax returns in the spring of 2021. 

Q. What do I do if I need to apply for a Social Security Number?

A. All local Social Security offices are closed to the public for in-person service. You may refer to their COVID-19 web page to learn more, including how to get help from the Social Security Administration (SSA) by phone and online.  If you need to apply for an SSN you must wait until they resume in-person services.

Transfer In Questions

Q. I am in the U.S. and I will transfer my F-1 visa sponsorship to Harvard. Am I considered to be maintaining legal F-1 status if my program only offers online courses for the Fall 2020 semester?

A: Yes, F-1 transfer students may begin their studies at Harvard with online classes for the fall 2020.  Students must be enrolled full-time to maintain F-1 status.

If you have transferred your SEVIS immigration record from your previous institution to Harvard University, you should have received a “transfer pending” and a “continued attendance” I-20 from Harvard University, with remarks that the SEVIS transfer was completed. If you have yet to receive the continued attendance I-20 for your completed transfer, the HIO will be reaching out to you via email to ask for your mailing address so that we can ship you the continued attendance I-20 after registration with the HIO. The continued attendance I-20 confirms that you have an “Active” SEVIS record, and you may remain in the U.S. for the fall semester. Please contact your HIO Advisor if you have questions. 

Q. If I graduated from my undergrad earlier this Spring and I’m starting my graduate program this Fall, can I remain in the U.S.?

A. Yes. If you are starting a new program in the U.S. and either transferring your F-1/J-1 SEVIS record, or changing your educational level at Harvard, you may remain in the U.S. even if your coursework is online. You should consult our Transfer and Change of Level instructions so that you can ensure that appropriate action is taken on your SEVIS record to keep it active.

Q. I am not in the U.S. right now and I won’t travel to the U.S. until January 2021. Should I ask my current institution to transfer my SEVIS record to Harvard even if I won’t start school within five months?

A. If you will be participating in the Fall 2020 semester remotely, then you should transfer your record to Harvard prior to the start of Fall 2020 courses. Please work with your current institution to have your SEVIS record released to Harvard for the Fall 2020 semester.

If you will defer your enrollment and will not enroll in the Fall 2020 semester at Harvard, then you should contact your HIO advisor

Q. I received a transfer pending Form I-20 issued by the HIO. I am in the U.S. right now. Can I complete my SEVIS transfer via email?

Transfer-in students, who are currently inside the U.S., must register their arrival with the HIO within 15 days of their Harvard program start date, listed on their Harvard Form I-20. Transfer-in students will be asked to register electronically with the HIO. You should have received an email from the HIO regarding the necessary steps to register your arrival.  If you did not receive the email please contact your HIO advisor.

Q. I got a transfer pending Form I-20 with the start date of August 24, 2020. I am in my home country right now and I don’t plan to go to the U.S. until January 2021. Do I need to get a new I-20 from my HIO advisor with the spring 2021 start date?

If you have a “Transfer Pending” I-20 with a Fall 2020 start date, and will enroll full-time as a remote student in the Fall 2020, you will not receive an I-20 with a different program start date on it. However, you will be receiving a continued attendance I-20 from the HIO after your transfer has been completed and you have fully registered.  You should have received an email from the HIO regarding the necessary steps to register.  If you did not receive the email please contact your HIO advisor.

If you have a “Transfer Pending” I-20 with a Fall 2020 start date, but have decided not to enroll at Harvard in the Fall 2020 semester, you should contact your HIO advisor

Q.  I am an F-1 student transferring to Harvard to begin my program in the Fall 2020 semester, studying remotely within the U.S.  Will I be eligible for F-1 CPT during Summer 2021? 

A. If your degree program offers summer CPT, then yes, you can obtain CPT authorization for Summer 2021 as a transfer-in student.

Initial, Incoming Students (updated 8/12/2020)

Visa Application and Arrival to the U.S.

Q. I am an admitted international student. Do I need a visa document (Form I-20 or DS-2019) and a valid visa stamp in my passport in order to enroll for Harvard online courses in my home country for the fall 2020? 

A. Current federal government guidance does not allow NEW international students to come to the U.S in F-1 or J-1 status to begin an entirely online academic program.  International students starting new programs, who are not transferring their SEVIS record from other academic programs in the U.S., should not plan to come to the U.S. this fall, even if they are successful in getting a visa appointment and receive an F-1 or J-1 visa.  New international students must plan to begin their studies on-line outside the U.S.

You do not need a new I-20 or DS-2019, or visa stamp in your passport from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to enroll in Harvard online courses from your home country, or anywhere outside the U.S., for the fall semester.

Q. I have obtained my Form I-20 and visa stamp. I don’t plan to travel to the U.S. for the fall 2020 since courses will be taught online. Is it possible for the HIO to clear my visa registration so I may enroll online? Do I need to ask my HIO advisor to change the start date on my I-20 and mail me a new I-20 for me to enter the U.S. in January, 2021?

A. All newly admitted international students are permitted to study online in their home countries in the Fall 2020 and the HIO visa registration is not needed in this case. Students should follow their individual school’s instructions and comply with those requirements. Upon your school’s request, an amended I-20 will be issued and scanned to you. The amended I-20 is generated from the same SEVIS record. You may use the amended I-20 and the valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport to enter the U.S. in F-1 status no more than 30 days before the start date on your amended I-20. After entering the U.S. in F-1 status, you are required to register with the HIO either in person or online.

Q. If I already paid the SEVIS fee, can that fee be used in the future (when we can arrive on campus)?

A. The SEVIS fee is associated with the SEVIS number listed on your Form I-20 or DS-2019. If the dates of your Form I-20 or DS-2019 are changed to reflect the spring semester start date, or if you are granted a deferral of one year, your SEVIS number will remain the same, and you will not need to pay the SEVIS fee again.

Q.  I got the initial attendance I-20 from HIO. Due to the time difference between the U.S. and my home country, it’s very difficult to complete the fall semester online. Is it possible for me to enter the U.S. in F-1 status once I have obtained my F-1 visa?

A. You cannot enter the U.S. as a new F-1 or J-1 student if your school is only offering online instruction for the fall semester. In order to be eligible to enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status, you must be a full-time student and attending in-person classes at Harvard University. You must wait until your school and the HIO has notified you that entry to attend in-person classes is permitted, before you can enter the U.S. using your F-1 or J-1 visa and Form I-20 or DS-2019. For questions related to time differences and difficulties with online instruction, please contact your school’s admissions office.

Q. My academic advisor asked me to come to Harvard in the fall to start the proposed research project and take online courses. May I come to Harvard in September with my initial attendance I-20?

A. No, students with “initial attendance” I-20s are not eligible to enter the U.S. in F-1 status to begin their program of study if the school is offering online teaching only. You should consult with your academic advisor to discuss the possibility of beginning your research remotely from outside the U.S.

Q. I am a newly admitted student who would prefer to begin my academic program once in-person instruction resumes.  Am I eligible for a deferral?

A. Decisions regarding deferrals are made by offices at the respective Harvard schools.  Please review information that may have been e-mailed to you from your school about deferrals, or contact your academic program for assistance and information regarding the deferral processes and eligibility policies.

Work Authorization: On Campus, OPT, and CPT

Q. I am a new student and my program will be online in the fall.  Will I be eligible to work on-campus when I arrive to begin my program once on-campus instruction resumes?

A. Yes.  Information about on-campus work authorization for F-1 and J-1 students is available on the HIO website here.  F-1 and J-1 students are permitted to begin working on-campus once they arrive in the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status.

Q. I am a new student and my program will be online in the fall.  Will I be eligible for work authorization during my program or after I graduate?

A. Whether you will be eligible for work authorization post-graduation depends on your program duration.

• One (1)-Year Programs: If you are accepted to a one-year program, meaning that you will only be able to attend in-person classes for one semester (Spring 2021):

  • If you choose the F-1 student visa, you will not be eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM OPT following your program as those benefits only apply to those who accrue nine (9) months of student visa status in the U.S.  If the guidance on this issue changes, we will let you know as soon as possible.
  • If you choose the J-1 student visa, you will be eligible to receive approximately five months of Academic Training (AT) work authorization, as long as you are able to attend classes on campus in the Spring 2021 semester.

• Multi-Year Programs, including 3 semester programs:

  • Based on the current regulations, if you are able to be in the U.S. to attend nine (9) months (i.e., two (2) consecutive semesters) of your program in the U.S. in F-1 status, you would be able to apply for OPT for use after you complete your program.
  • J-1 Students in two-year graduate programs who are studying in the U.S. in J-1 status for less than 18 months will be eligible for Academic Training time equal to the length of their studies.
  • J-1 Undergraduate Students are eligible for 18 months of Academic Training.
  • J-1 Doctoral Students are eligible for 36 months of Academic Training.

Q. I am a new student and my program will be online in the fall.  Will I be eligible for F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) so I can do a summer internship?  My program has a required practicum or internship – will I be able to use CPT for that?  If I wanted to undertake an off-campus internship, would I be able to use CPT for that, too? 

A.  According to the government regulations, an F-1 student must have been "lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis in a Service-approved college, university, conservatory, or seminary for one full academic year" to be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT). A newly admitted international student starting the degree program remotely in his/her home country in the Fall 2020 will not obtain F-1 status for online registration. If the student subsequently enters the U.S. in F-1 status in January 2021, the student will not meet the “one full academic year” enrollment in the U.S. that is required for CPT eligibility, and therefore will not be eligible for CPT authorization for a summer 2021 off-campus internship. Some exceptions to this may apply for degree programs with mandatory practicum, internship, culminating experience, or other off-campus program requirements.  Please speak with your HIO advisor for more information about this and how it may apply to you and your academic program.

Other Immigration Categories and Study

Q: Can I enter the U.S. using ESTA or a B-1/B-2 tourist visa to study online from the U.S. for the fall semester?

A: No, unfortunately ESTA and the B-1/B-2 visa do not allow for study in the U.S., even if it is for a remote program. You will need to participate in the fall semester remotely from your home country before entering the U.S. on your student visa to start spring coursework.

Q.  I am a new student in the U.S. in a H-1B/H-4/J-1/J-2/TN/TD/O-1/O-4, etc. status.  Can I keep my current status and start my Harvard program remotely?

A. Different immigration statuses have different requirements and may or may not permit full-time study.  The HIO recommends that you take the following steps with your current immigration sponsor:

  • Make sure that your sponsor is aware of your plans to enroll at Harvard.
  • Consult with your sponsor’s international office; human resources office; and/or the immigration attorney who assisted with any underlying petitions filed for you, as it is critical that you ensure that study and enrollment in an academic program were included in those petition materials.
  • Review how to comply with the terms of your status insofar as your sponsor’s own unique institutional or organizational policies are concerned; and
  • Confirm your plans with your HIO advisor.

The HIO also recommends that after you discuss this information with your immigration sponsor, you confirm everything with them in writing.

Scholar Issues (updated 7/31/2020)

Q. I have been invited to start a program at Harvard soon.  Should I still come?

A. You should reach out to the department that invited you for more guidance.

Q. Should I come to the HIO to register?

A. While the HIO is operating remotely, we will be processing all registrations electronically. All new scholars must register with the HIO within 30 days of the start date listed on their immigration document such as Form DS-2019. A returning scholar with a new Form DS-2019 must also re-register with the HIO. Once you arrive in the U.S., please email the following documents to the HIO.

  1. HIO Registration Form
  2. J-1 Student Interns: a copy of your signed Training and Internship Placement Plan/DS-7002. The DS-7002 must be signed and dated by both the intern and the internship supervisor. Electronic signatures on the DS-7002 are accepted.

The staff at the HIO will confirm with you via email once your registration has been processed.

Q. If a scholar chooses to go home to wait out the virus, can their J-1 status remain valid?

A. Any scholar planning to leave the U.S. to wait out the virus should contact their HIO advisor for further information.

Q. Should I update the HIO if I am now working remotely within the U.S.?

A. If you are on a J visa and have remained in the U.S., but are not living at the same address where you were living before the University instituted remote teaching, you must provide the address where you are currently living using the HIO change of address form. All other immigration categories, including those on H-1B, TN, O-1, E-3 and U.S. Permanent Residence must submit Form AR-11 to USCIS. Follow the instructions on the form for submission. Once complete, please send a copy of your completed Form AR-11 to the HIO via email so we may update your record in our system.