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 3/22/2021)
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 note that the information below is only for students who have a “continued attendance” SEVIS record, or for first-year students who will be entering the U.S. for an on-campus/hybrid semester. First-year students and students returning from a Leave of Absence remain ineligible to enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 student status for the Spring 2021 term if their coursework is entirely online, according to U.S. Government guidance. First year students and those with “initial attendance” I-20s should refer to the information under “Initial, incoming students” for more information.
Routine Visa Issuance Resuming on a Country by Country Basis
Some U.S. Embassies and Consulates have started to resume routine visa services depending on the in-country situation, while others may be closing again due to new in-country lockdowns. U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide have different policies and procedures in place about re-opening, and they are facing severe application backlog that have accrued during their closures. You may view the current operating status of a given U.S. Embassy or Consulate on the U.S. State Department website.
All incoming students and scholars currently outside of the U.S., except Canadian citizens, require a visa stamp issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country, in order to enter the U.S. 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:
- European Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City)
- Republic of Ireland
- South Africa
- United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland)
This suspension also applies to individuals traveling or connecting through one of the travel ban countries. If you transit through a country on the travel ban list on your way to the U.S., you become subject to the travel ban, even if you do not leave the airport.
Travel Ban Information for F-1 Students
A recent Department of State announcement has stated that continuing students with a valid F-1 visa may enter the U.S. from the EU Schengen area, UK, or Ireland, despite the travel ban. On March 2, 2021, the Department of State updated this announcement to confirm that this exception remains in effect. 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 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) guidance regarding the travel ban exception. If you are questioned, you should be ready to show the guidance to a CBP officer at a port of entry.
There is no formal waiver process or exception yet for students located in China, Brazil, South Africa, or Iran.
Travel Ban Information for J-1 Students, Scholars, Student Interns, and their Dependents
J-1 students, scholars, and student interns in the European Schengen area, the UK, or Ireland, must contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country to apply for a National Interest Exception (NIE) to the travel ban. If you previously applied for and entered the U.S. with an NIE, that NIE is no longer valid. You must reapply for an NIE every time you prepare to re-enter the U.S. from the European Schengen area, the UK, or Ireland, until the travel ban is lifted. You must travel to the U.S. within 30 days of the U.S. Embassy’s or Consulate’s issuance of your NIE.
NIEs are required for travel from the European Schengen area, the U.K, and Ireland, while the current Presidential Proclamations remain in effect. There is no formal waiver process or exception for students, scholars, and student interns traveling from China, Brazil, South Africa, or Iran. Travelers are currently prohibited from returning to the U.S. if they have been in China, Brazil, South Africa, or Iran within 14 days of their planned arrival date in the U.S.
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 or J-1 status are still eligible to enter the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. The Canadian/Mexican/U.S. 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. As always, admission to the U.S. is at the discretion of the CBP officer. If you intend to enter the U.S. 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.
Negative COVID-19 Testing Requirement for all Travel to the U.S.
As of January 26, 2021, all air passengers entering the U.S. will be required to comply with the following COVID-19 safety measures in order to board a flight to the U.S.:
- show proof of a negative viral COVID-19 test within the 3 days before their flight to the U.S. departs;
- complete a seven-day quarantine when a passenger arrives in the U.S.;
- and take another COVID-19 test 3-5 days after arriving.
Full details may be found on the CDC website. This order is backed by President Biden, who signed an executive order on January 21, 2021, requiring all air travelers to comply with these CDC measures.
Students and scholars should also make sure they have the required documents to enter the U.S. with.
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 quarantine for 10 days after arriving in Massachusetts, or produce a negative COVID-19 test result that has been administered up to 72-hours prior to your arrival in MA.
Harvard University Testing and Quarantine Requirements
In addition to the CDC and Massachusetts state quarantine guidance, you must also comply with Harvard's post-travel testing and quarantine policy. Harvard's testing and quarantine requirements differ depending if you are living on or off-campus and if you are authorized for in-person activities on-campus. You must follow the applicable requirements.
Contacting the HIO (updated 11/12/2020)
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 emails and modify our website with the most up-to-date information. It is essential that you read all 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 (EST). This service is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, and is intended for international students and scholars with general, 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 standard 30-minute appointment to speak with the HIO Advisor assigned to your school or department, you can 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. If you are in the Cambridge area, you may contact your HIO Advisor for weekly availability of in-person travel signatures at the Smith Campus Center. In-person travel signatures are available by appointment only. You must confirm with your HIO Advisor if you have space available on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 for a new signature. If you are not in the Cambridge area, the HIO can issue you a new document with a new travel signature and ship it to you via FedEx. To request this service, please follow the steps to purchase a FedEx label using eShipGlobal.
Continuing Students and Transfer-in Students (updated 2/11/2021)
Travel and Visa Questions
Q. What is the HIO's recommendation for current students looking to re-enter the U.S. for the Spring 2021 semester?
A. At this time, the U.S. government has not released guidance for Spring 2021. However, the most recent government guidance confirmed that continuing students with a valid visa and Form I-20 or DS-2019 may re-enter the U.S. for the Fall 2020 semester. As you know, most instruction at Harvard this fall is being done remotely, and many schools are opting for remote instruction in Spring 2021 as well. As a continuing student with an active SEVIS record, you are currently 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 at any point during the fall semester or for the spring semester, we advise you to print out the latest government guidance and highlight the section on continuing students. Again, government guidance for the spring has not been issued, so we must advise within the parameters of the most current guidance available. If updated guidance is issued, the HIO will update the community and this FAQ accordingly.
Students should always check to make sure that they have the required immigration documents for re-entry to the U.S. In addition, if you are coming from the European 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 F-1 exception to the travel bans. If you are questioned, you should be ready to show the guidance to a CBP officer at a port of entry. J-1 students from the European Schengen area, the UK, or Ireland, should read the information above under “COVID-19 Visa Issuance and Travel Updates” regarding applying for a travel ban waiver with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country.
Please note that all other travel bans (China, Iran, Brazil) are still in effect without exception. Keep in mind that new travel bans could be added at any time in response to the pandemic. Before you travel, check the CDC website for up-to-date information to ensure your entry to the U.S. 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. Consulates and Embassies have different policies and procedures in place about reopening and they are facing severe application backlogs that have accrued during their closures. Students who attempt visa renewal are encouraged to be as flexible as possible with their plans to return to the U.S. and should 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 any COVID-19 travel restrictions the U.S. may have regarding international travel, including restrictions applicable to countries they may transit through.
Q. Is there any paperwork beyond our Form 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 or J-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. is available on the HIO website here.
A letter from the university should not be required for re-entry to the U.S. The guidance from the government requiring remarks on the Form I-20 was rescinded through the lawsuit on July 15, 2020. If you are planning to return to Harvard for the fall or spring 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. If I am currently located in the U.S., is it safe to leave the country or would it be better to stay in the U.S., unless it's necessary to travel?
A. It is difficult to predict how travel and re-entry may change in the coming months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are currently in the U.S., we do not recommend traveling abroad unless the trip is essential or an emergency. The University as a whole strongly discourages personal travel, both international and domestic. If you are outside the U.S. and looking to re-enter from a country with a travel ban, please contact your HIO Advisor.
If you are leaving the U.S. for an essential or emergency trip, you must check that the travel signature on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 will be valid upon your return the U.S. If it will be more than 12 months old at the time you re-enter the U.S., you must contact your HIO Advisor for an updated signature prior to your departure. If you are in the Cambridge area, you may contact your HIO Advisor for availability of in-person travel signatures at the Smith Campus Center. In-person travel signatures are available by appointment only and you must first confirm with your HIO Advisor that you have space available on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 for a new signature. If you are not in the Cambridge area, the HIO can issue you a new document with a new travel signature and ship it to you via FedEx. To request this service, please follow the steps to purchase a FedEx label using eShipGlobal.
Q. Will the border closure between the U.S. and Canada or U.S. and Mexico impact my ability to enter the U.S. as an F-1 visa or J-1 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/U.S. travel ban applies to non-essential travelers via land borders. However, please note that, as always, admission to the U.S. is at the discretion of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. 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. You must also 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. If you are planning to return to Harvard for the Spring 2021 semester, we advise you to print out the latest government guidance when it becomes available 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 in the European Schengen area, the UK, or Ireland, should read the information above under “COVID-19 Visa Issuance and Travel Updates” regarding applying for a travel ban waiver with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country.
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 that is 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 return 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 government guidance confirms that students can study remotely from outside the U.S. and retain valid F-1 or J-1 visa status, if students continue to be enrolled full-time and make regular progress towards completion of their degree.
Q. Should F-1 students who leave the U.S. during the Fall 2020 semester or who are outside the U.S. for the Spring 2021 semester report their departure to HIO?
A. If you move to another location within the U.S., you must report any change of U.S. address to the HIO within 10 days of the move. You do not 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 required documents for your re-entry. Information about what documents are required for re-entry to the U.S. is available on the HIO website.
Q. Could you clarify what the five-month rule is and how it is calculated? The continued exception to the five-month rule is "assumed.” Is there any 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 U.S. 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 their visa status if they are maintaining full-time student status and are making normal progress in their course of study, either from within 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 2021 semester?
A. Continuing international students are not required to stay in Cambridge, the greater-Boston area, or Massachusetts for the Spring 2021 semester if they are studying remotely. The University strongly discourages personal travel, both international and domestic. Please be aware of the Massachusetts COVID-19 travel order if you re-enter the state. If you move within the U.S., you must also notify the HIO and your school within 10 days of an address change.
Current 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. However, if your school offers a hybrid of in-person and online classes for the spring semester, you may enter the country to gain your F-1 or J-1 student status. If you enter the U.S. as a new F-1 or J-1 student you are required to register for in-person classes to maintain your legal status, and you will have to stay in this area due to travel restrictions.
Q. Do you expect that the current policy permitting international students to complete a full course load of credits from outside the U.S. will continue through the Spring 2021 semester? If not, how does the university expect to accommodate international students who (a) cannot return to the U.S. due to travel restrictions to continue their studies or (b) do not feel comfortable returning to the U.S. due to the pandemic and/or other personal reasons?
A. The current government guidance is in effect through the end of the Fall 2020 semester. We expect additional guidance to be issued prior to the Spring 2021semester but there is no indication when we might receive this guidance. Harvard is continually monitoring the situation and is making decisions based on all the information currently available.
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 re-entry 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 their visa stamp if their 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 begins a period of OPT, STEM OPT, or AT. 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 Form I-20 and Form 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. to resume in-person studies, will we have to get a new form with a travel signature mailed from the school for our visa to be valid upon arriving at a U.S. port of entry?
A. Students must have a travel signature that is less than 12 months old at the time of re-entry to the U.S. If you need an updated travel signature on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019, contact your HIO Advisor several weeks before your intended return to the U.S. to request a new Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 with a valid travel signature.
Q. What are the pros and cons of taking a leave of absence? If taking a leave of absence, can I stay in the U.S. by transferring to another type of visa (e.g., B1/B2)?
A. If you are taking a leave of absence (LOA), your F-1 or 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 LOA, you will be doing so on a new, initial status Form I-20 or Form DS-2019. As such, based on current government guidance, you will only be permitted to re-enter the U.S. if your school is offering in-person or hybrid classes for that semester.
For F-1 students, in order to be eligible to apply for off-campus employment authorization, such as CPT or OPT, you must be a full-time student for at least one academic year from the time that you return from your LOA.
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 (EST) in a number of ways. Please contact your specific school for information on what plans are in place.
Q. Should F-1 students who plan to re-enter/stay in the U.S. for only part of the Spring semester obtain the full health insurance coverage for the Spring 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 U.S. during the COVID-19 emergency count toward the one-year requirement for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
A. F-1 students accrue eligibility for practical training whether they are inside or outside of the U.S. during the COVID-19 emergency, if the student has active F-1 status in SEVIS and meets the requirements of their school’s COVID-19 procedural change plans submitted to SEVP.
For F-1 students on a leave of absence (LOA), in order to be eligible to apply for off-campus employment authorization, (CPT or OPT), you must be a full-time student for at least one academic year from the time that you return from your LOA. Please review the HIO Leave of Absence page for more information and contact your HIO Advisor for specific LOA guidelines for your school.
Q. Can I apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) while I am outside the U.S.?
A. USCIS requires that F-1 students be physically located in the U.S. when they apply for OPT. You may file your Post-Completion (also known as, post-graduation) OPT application up to 90-days prior to your program end date. In early 2021, the HIO will make announcements about when we will begin accepting Post-Completion OPT requests for May 2021 graduates. Each HIO Advisor will provide specific information about the OPT application timelines and processes in webinar sessions held for the respective Harvard schools and colleges. Please carefully monitor your email for details about when these sessions will be held.
You may leave the U.S. after your OPT application has been received by USCIS, and while your OPT application is pending. Please note that Harvard University has prohibited all University-related travel, and strongly discourages any personal domestic or international travel at this time. Please speak with your HIO Advisor before finalizing travel plans, as COVID-19-related travel restrictions may change quickly and unexpectedly. Travelling also has implications for information you provide in your OPT application. 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 forward USCIS mail to you using a courier service, such as FedEx or DHL.
Q. If I am in the U.S., can I submit my F-1 OPT or J-1 Academic Training application to the HIO remotely?
F-1 Students must be in the U.S. in F-1 status to submit the OPT application to USCIS.
J-1 Students can submit their J-1 Academic Training application via email to their HIO Advisor, even if they are not physically in the U.S.
Q. I used my friend’s address to have USCIS mail my OPT EAD and now they are leaving that address. What should I do?
A. Because you cannot use an international address, you should locate another recipient within the U.S. You must then immediately 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 re-entering the U.S. before graduation because your Form I-20 will still be valid. You must have all the required documents when re-entering the U.S. If you want to re-enter the U.S. after graduation, you must have your Employment Authorization Card (EAD) which reflects your 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 with USCIS.
Q. Can I still apply for CPT from outside the U.S.?
A. Yes. Please contact your HIO Advisor for more information on how to apply
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 the HIO website. You must have a job offer and submit your application to the HIO within 30 days of graduation to qualify.
Q. I am currently working on OPT/STEM OPT and am working from home pursuant to my employer’s policies. Is this okay?
A. According to the SEVP guidance, “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 “Material Changes” remain in effect”.
Please note that this guidance is in effect through the Spring 2021 semester. SEVP updates this guidance and confirms that the guidance remains in effect periodically. Students should be aware that the STEM OPT regulations typically require students to work onsite at their employer’s place of business. Students who are temporarily working remotely on the STEM OPT Extension pursuant to the SEVP guidance should discuss a plan with their employer to return to their usual worksites in the event that this guidance is rescinded or amended. The HIO will notify you of such changes by email. More information regarding these requirements can be found on the USCIS website and on Study in the States.
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 and maintain registration with their schools 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 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 a Social Security Number (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 an SSN while outside the U.S.; therefore, students who are working from outside the U.S. are not eligible to apply for an SSN. The hiring department should work with Global Support Services to ensure that the students are set up properly in the Harvard payroll system to have the appropriate taxes, if any, deducted from their paychecks.
Individuals who are working remotely from inside the U.S. should apply for an 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 an SSN via fax, and you should contact the nearest Social Security Administration office to see if this service is available.
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 (SSN)?
A. All local Social Security offices are closed to the public but are allowing some in-person services by appointment only. You may refer to the SSN COVID-19 web page to learn more, including how to get help from the Social Security Administration by phone and online. If you need to apply for an SSN, you must call your local office to schedule an appointment.
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?
A: Yes, per the current government guidance, F-1 transfer students may begin their studies at Harvard even if their program is only offering online courses. 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” Form I-20 from Harvard University, with remarks that the SEVIS transfer was completed. If you have yet to receive the “Continued Attendance” Form I-20 for your completed transfer, please contact your HIO Advisor. The “Continued Attendance” Form I-20 confirms that you have an active SEVIS record and that you may remain in the U.S.
Q. If I graduated from my undergrad earlier this fall and I’m starting my graduate program this spring, can I remain in the U.S.?
A. Yes. Per the current government guidance, if you are starting a new program in the U.S. and either transferring your F-1 or J-1 SEVIS record, or changing your educational level at Harvard, you may remain in the U.S., even if your coursework is online or hybrid. 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 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?
A. Transfer-in students, who are currently inside the U.S., must register their arrival with the HIO within 15-days of the Harvard program start date listed on their Harvard Form I-20. Transfer-in students will receive an email from the HIO with the necessary steps to register their arrival via remote registration. If you do not receive the email, please contact your HIO Advisor.
Q. I am an F-1 student who transferred to Harvard to begin my program in the Fall 2020 semester, and am studying remotely within the U.S. Will I be eligible for F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) during Summer 2021?
A. If your degree program offers summer CPT, you may be eligible to obtain CPT authorization for Summer 2021 as a transfer-in student. Please consult with your HIO Advisor for instructions.
Initial, Incoming Students (updated 1/12/2021)
It was our expectation that the U.S. federal government would provide updated guidance for the spring 2021 semester in a timely manner. At this time, we have only seen a statement from a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program that the federal guidance on foreign students will remain the same for spring 2021. This means no provision has been made to enable first year students (or those returning from a leave of absence) to come to the U.S. to study in a fully remote program. Therefore, we have no choice but to continue to advise in the same manner as we did for the fall semester. If anything changes, the HIO will inform students immediately, but at this time we do not anticipate any updates to the guidance for spring 2021.
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 Form DS-2019) and a valid visa stamp in my passport in order to enroll for Harvard online courses in my home country for the Spring 2021 semester?
A. You do not need a new Form I-20 or Form 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 Spring 2021 semester.
Current 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, fully online programs, who are not transferring their SEVIS record from other academic programs in the U.S. or changing their level of education within Harvard, should not plan to come to the U.S. this spring, 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 online outside the U.S.
Q. I have obtained my Form I-20 and visa stamp. I do not plan to travel to the U.S. for the Spring 2021 semester 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 Form I-20 for me to enter the U.S. in September 2021?
A. All newly admitted international students are permitted to study online in their home countries in the Spring 2021 semester 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 Form I-20 will be issued and sent to you. The amended Form I-20 is generated from the same SEVIS record. You may use the amended Form 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 Form I-20. After entering the U.S. in F-1 status, you are required to register with the HIO. HIO registration instructions will be provided to you as you approach your Form I-20 start date.
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 Form DS-2019. If the dates of your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 are changed to reflect a future 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 Form I-20 from the HIO. Due to the time difference between the U.S. and my home country, it’s very difficult to complete the Spring 2021 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 Spring 2021 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 has decided to offer in-person classes or a hybrid of in-person and online classes 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 Form DS-2019. For questions related to time differences and difficulties with online instruction, please contact your school’s admissions office.
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 sent to you from your school about deferrals or contact your school’s admissions office for assistance and information regarding the deferral processes and eligibility requirements.
Work Authorization: On Campus, OPT, and CPT
Q. I am a new student and my program began online in Fall 2020 and will also be online for the Spring 2021 semester. Will I be eligible to work on-campus when I arrive to begin my program once on-campus instruction resumes?
A. Yes. 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. Additional information about on-campus work authorization for F-1 and J-1 students is available on the HIO website.
Q. I am a new student and my program was taught 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 enrolled in a one-year program that has decided to offer a hybrid of in-person and online classes in the Spring 2021 semester and in total, you will only be able to attend in-person classes for one semester (Spring 2021):
- F-1 Students: 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.
- J-1 Students: You will be eligible to receive approximately five months of Academic Training (AT) work authorization, provided you are able to attend classes on campus in the Spring 2021 semester.
• Multi-Year Programs, including 3 semester programs:
- F-1 Students: Based on the current regulations, if you can 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 Post-Completion OPT.
- J-1 Students: 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 (AT) time equal to the length of their studies.
- J-1 Undergraduate Students are eligible for 18 months of AT.
- J-1 Doctoral Students are eligible for 36 months of AT.
Q. I am a new student and my program was taught online in the fall. Will I be eligible for F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) so I can do an internship in Summer 2021? 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. An F-1 student be enrolled for one full academic year in order to be eligible for CPT. A newly admitted international student starting the degree program remotely in his/her home country in the Fall 2020 semester is not in F-1 status during their remote learning. Even if the student subsequently enters the U.S. in F-1 status for the Spring 2021 semester, the student will not meet the required “one full academic year” enrollment in the U.S., 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 the current guidance 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 or Spring semester?
A: No, 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. If your school is also remote in the Spring 2021 semester, you will need to remain outside of the U.S. for your online study.
If your school is operating in person or hybrid classes in the Spring 2021 semester, please work with your HIO Advisor to obtain a Form I-20 or DS-2019 for the F-1 or J-1 visa. You may not enter the U.S. using ESTA or a B-1/B-2 tourist visa for either in-person or remote coursework.
Q. I am a new student in the U.S. in a H-1B/H-4J-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 11/12/2020)
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. No, you should not come to the HIO to register in person. While the HIO is operating remotely, we will be processing all registrations electronically. You must complete your registration within 30 days of the start date listed on your immigration document (for example, the start date on your Form DS-2019). A returning scholar with a new Form DS-2019 must also re-register with the HIO.
The HIO will email you before your appointment start date to provide registration instructions. Once you arrive in the U.S., please email the below documents to the HIO.
- HIO Registration Form: Please note that you will need to reference your passport, visa stamp, and I-94 record in order to complete this form. You can access your I-94 record online using information from your passport.
- 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 COVID-19 pandemic, can their J-1 status remain valid?
A. Any scholar planning to leave the U.S. to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic should contact their HIO Advisor for further information. Current guidance from the Exchange Visitor Program issued in February 2020 permits the HIO to maintain an Active J-1 SEVIS record for you. Any changes to this guidance and HIO maintenance of your SEVIS record will be announced via email. Please carefully review emails you receive from the HIO to be sure you receive the most updated advising regarding this matter.
Q. Should I update the HIO if I am now working remotely within the U.S.?
A. If you are on a J-1 visa and have remained in the U.S., but have changed addresses since 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 your HIO Advisor via email so we may update your record in our database.