International Students

We know this time presents you with an extra set of stressors. You likely have concerns about your visa, your ability to travel, academics and more. Our top priority is your health, safety and well-being. We are here to support you, and we will continue to update the information below as new developments take place.

In this unprecedented time, we realize that some of you may need assistance with hardships caused by COVID-19. The USC Student Basic Needs Department is a resource for currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students that addresses food, housing and financial insecurity. 

Visas and Immigration Status

We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020 policy guidance issued by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) that would prevent international students from taking online-only classes in the fall while residing in the United States. USC played a critical role in advocating for our international students, and our collaborative efforts with other universities made a difference.

Per today’s court decision, effectively immediately, SEVP will revert to the guidance it issued in March allowing students residing in the United States to take online classes to maintain their F-1 student status. In the coming days, we expect to receive further information about how today’s announcement will impact our continuing international students during the fall semester.

No. Given the July 14 announcement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there is no longer a requirement for all continuing F-1 students to receive updated I-20s at this time.

To maintain F-1 status in the United States, you are required to maintain a full course load during this temporary transition to alternative instructional methods. You should not fall below the full course requirement unless you have been permitted to do so either through a Reduced Course Load (RCL) or Leave of Absence (LOA) approval from your academic advisor and USC’s Office of International Services.

Just like we did this past spring, professors will record classes and make them available to students to watch whenever it is convenient for them.

Graduate students should check with the department or school to which they were admitted.

Undergraduate students could be granted deferrals in specific cases relating to medical issues, religious obligations, required military/national service and, in the case of international students who will attend classes online from another country, the inability to construct a reasonable online course schedule that is compatible with their home time zone. However, deferral requests for other reasons will generally not be granted.

New students who have committed to enroll at USC but fail to do so will forfeit their spot in the entering class and will need to reapply (with no guarantee of admission) should they wish to attend the university in a future term.

New students living outside the United States who plan to complete their USC coursework online should work with their academic advisor to construct a course schedule that is compatible with their home time zone. If a reasonable schedule is not feasible, students may request a deferral to a future term.

In such cases, USC’s academic advisors will notify the Office of Admission, and staff will then send a deferral form to the student. Once the student completes and submits this form, the Office of Admission will follow up with further information.

Students may stay in the United States on an expired F-1/J-1 visa as long as they maintain their immigration status by being in possession of a valid I-20/DS-2019 and an I-94 Arrival/Departure record, and by meeting normal enrollment requirements.

An I-20/DS-2019 is not required to depart the United States. Travel signatures are valid for one year, so please check your current I-20/DS-2019 before requesting a new one. For students on Optional Practical Training (OPT), your travel signature is valid for six months. Visit USC's Office of International Services website for instructions on how to request a reprinted I-20.

Options for Doctoral Students

If a student who has accepted a multi-year funding offer cannot enroll in the fall 2020 due to visa or COVID-19 issues, the Graduate School will hold the multi-year funding offer for this specific student for use beginning in either spring 2021 or fall 2021.

Students should inform their department of their plans by the following deadlines:

  • Not planning to enter in fall 2020 – July 15, 2020
  • Planning to enter in spring 2021 – Oct. 15, 2020
  • Planning to enter in fall 2021 – April 15, 2021

The deadlines are designed to be late enough for incoming PhD students to be able to assess their own situations and respond to changing global conditions, but early enough for principal investigators (PIs) to plan for lab staffing and assign research assistantships, for schools and programs to assign teaching assistantships, and for the students’ stipend checks to be processed on time. Exceptions will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Graduate deans will supply lists of students deferring their enrollment and submit them to the Graduate School and Office of Graduate Admissions. The students will then be readmitted to the new term, and the I-20s of international students will be issued to reflect their new start and end dates.

Currently enrolled USC PhD students may face COVID-19-related challenges that prevent their return to campus. To address this situation, the university created the option of a COVID-19-related pause for PhD students. With the approval of the program and school dean, currently enrolled PhD students have the option of pausing their studies in fall 2020 and then resuming them in either spring 2021 or fall 2021.

The pause is unfunded and similar to a leave of absence, but it comes with safeguards for both the student and the program in the form of an academic plan outlining specific expectations for the resumption of the student’s studies, funding and progress toward the degree. The duration of the pause does not count against the student’s progress toward the degree.

PhD students planning to use the COVID-19-related pause must develop an academic plan with their faculty advisor and obtain the signature of the advisor and school dean or dean’s designee indicating approval. The following dates are recommended as deadlines, but there is some room for flexibility.

The deadlines are designed to be late enough for students to be able to assess their own situations and respond to changing global conditions, but early enough for principal investigators (PIs) to plan for lab staffing and assign research assistantships, for schools and programs to assign teaching assistantships, and for the students’ stipend checks to be processed on time. In collaboration with the school dean, the PhD program will handle any exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

  • July 15, 2020: Confirm the pause option for fall 2020 and plan to resume studies in spring 2021 or fall 2021.
  • Oct. 15, 2020: Confirm a return for spring 2021, or confirm the pause option for spring 2021 and plan to resume studies in fall 2021.
  • April 15, 2021: Confirm a plan to resume studies in fall 2021.

The student, student’s home program and school dean’s office will keep a record of the COVID-19-related pause.

Students who are ill and undergoing treatment for COVID-19 or any serious illness should consider the possible advantage of a voluntary health leave.

International students should consult with USC's Office of International Services before making plans for any type of leave. Students who select the pause option must live outside of the United States during the semester(s) they are not enrolled due to U.S. immigration regulations.

USC will be able to process fellowship stipends for both incoming and continuing PhD students who are located in or outside the United States and have at least a semester of fellowship available in their multi-year funding offer. We will process stipends for continuing students per the standard protocol, and we will provide details soon regarding processing stipends for incoming students who are outside the United States.

Individual schools will evaluate the academic value of the remote coursework or research opportunity available to students (both domestic and international) who are not returning to campus in the fall. If a school deems the academic value of the coursework or research opportunity to be insufficient, it will advise students to defer using the option of the pause for continuing students, or the option of the multi-year funding offer deferral for incoming students. (see FAQs above)

We are still finalizing the options for teaching assistantships and research assistantships and will share additional information soon.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Current regulations state that you must be present in the United States when submitting your Optional Practical Training (OPT) and OPT STEM applications. You cannot mail your application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from abroad. You must be present in the United States at the time USCIS issues a receipt number to acknowledge acceptance of your packet.

The application requires an I-94 number, which is only valid while you are in the United States. If you depart the United States, you will not have a valid I-94 and your application will likely be rejected. If you are able to re-enter the United States before your I-20 program end date, you can apply for OPT up to 60 days after the program end date listed on your I-20.

USC and other universities have made this issue known to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and have urged the agency to provide special accommodations for OPT application rules due to the COVID-19 situation. We will share any updates as soon as they become available.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has not released any changes to its existing STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension application instructions. Therefore, students must be physically present in the United States to apply for a STEM OPT Extension.

Employers may ask their Optional Practical Training (OPT) employees to work from home. This will not affect their F-1 status. Students must still report their employment information to ensure they do not accrue days of unemployment in their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

While students are normally required to work full-time while on Optional Practical Training (OPT), the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) stated that temporarily due to COVID-19, any work (even less than 20 hours per week) will be sufficient for OPT students to maintain their status. All employment must be related to a student’s field of study. Students may work on an unpaid basis or as unpaid interns where this does not violate any U.S. labor laws.

In the event you are unable to find paid or unpaid employment and you are nearing the 90th day of unemployment on OPT, you have the following options:

  • Depart the United States. International students in Los Angeles who are having trouble finding flight routes home can reach out to the university’s travel service for advice and guidance. Please contact: Ginny Boyce or Shannon Boyd Jr., Crown International Travel Inc @ Altour, Telephone: 310-475-5661, Email: boyce@altour.com; Email: shannon.boyd@altour.com.
  • Transfer to another school in the United States to begin a new degree program. (This will end your OPT approval.)
  • Change your visa status to another visa category. Please contact an immigration attorney for this option.

It usually takes 1-3 weeks for students to receive an I-797 receipt notice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If you haven’t already done so, please check your bank/credit card statement to verify if USCIS has withdrawn the funds from your account. If you don’t receive the I-797 receipt notice by the third week, please contact USC's Office of International Services at ois@usc.edu.

As of March 18, 2020, USCIS has suspended all in-person services, but benefits that do not require in-person appointments with USCIS such as Optional Practical Training (OPT)/STEM OPT applications are still being accepted.

Travel Restrictions and Guidance

USC’s Office of International Services encourages international students with personal travel plans outside of the United States to review the travel guidance on its website for information about required travel documents.

International students in Los Angeles who are having trouble finding flight routes home can reach out to the university’s travel service for advice and guidance. Please contact:

The U.S. government is currently enforcing an entry ban on foreign passport holders who have been in certain countries, including China, the United Kingdom, Brazil and most European countries, within 14 days of their arrival to the United States. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for more information and a full list of countries.

What this means, practically, is that students residing in any of these restricted countries will need to spend at least 14 days in a different, unrestricted country before traveling to the United States.

Furthermore, all travelers from international destinations are required by the L.A. County Department of Public Health to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the United States before arriving on campus or residing in campus housing.

Please consider these safety restrictions imposed by the U.S. government and plan your travel carefully. If you arrive in the United States in advance of the start of classes, keep in mind that USC Housing will not be able to accommodate you until the university’s formal move-in dates (Aug. 10-16) and after you have completed your 14-day quarantine within the United States.

International students who are currently in their home countries can contact their local USC office for support.

Contact USC’s Office of International Services (OIS)

While the Office of International Services’ physical offices in the Royal Street Structure (University Park Campus) and Soto Building (Health Sciences Campus) are closed, staff are working remotely to continue providing essential services and information to the international community at USC. You may download a request form from our website and email your request to ois@usc.edu. We will process your request and ship it to your location. As authorized by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) during the COVID-19 pandemic, we will email an electronically signed document in certain cases.

Please email ois@usc.edu and include your name, student ID number, Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) number, phone number, current location and a description of your inquiry. An advisor from USC's Office of International Services (OIS) will contact you. You can find additional information at ois.usc.edu, including virtual office hours and a calendar of live online information sessions for international students.

Please know that we are currently receiving a very high volume of emails, and this may result in a delayed response. Our staff members are working as quickly as possible to review and respond to all inquiries.

Housing

USC Housing and Residential Education shared the increased health and safety guidelines that all USC Housing residents will be required to follow to ensure a safe and healthy community environment. See our university housing FAQs for additional information about updated USC Housing policies, fall housing, contract and application cancellation, and more.

If you have any housing-related questions or concerns, please contact USC Housing at 213-740-2546 or email housing@usc.edu.

Students who live in off-campus non-university housing should view the non-university housing FAQs.

If you are facing a dispute with your landlord, USC’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and Graduate Student Government (GSG) provide free legal counseling for students over the summer. Appointments take place via phone every Monday from 4-9 p.m. PST, and they are on a first-come, first-served basis. Contact stuacts@usc.edu with any questions.

Health Care and Coverage

There are no individual payment costs for COVID-19 testing. Tests may be conducted for clinical diagnosis (your health provider would do a screening and potentially recommend PCR nasal swab testing) or public health purposes (PCR nasal swab or blood test for antibodies).

During the summer, Student Health services will continue to be in operation for all of our services, including primary care, injury/illness care, mental health services, and continuing public health monitoring, prevention and care for COVID-19 patients.

For continuing students, USC Student Health (counseling, mental health services and medical services) can continue to be your provider from May 23 through Aug. 14, 2020. Sign up for summer coverage. Students residing in California who are enrolled in summer courses are automatically charged the summer health fee. The 2020 summer health fee is $180 and includes access to all services.

All matriculated students are eligible to sign up, regardless of whether or not they are taking classes this summer. Students residing near campus are especially encouraged to sign up; all students in California can receive care from our medical and counseling providers. For additional information, contact USC Student Health at 213-740-9355 (WELL) or email studenthealth@usc.edu.

Students who currently have the USC Student Health Insurance Plan that’s provided through Aetna are covered through August 2020. Class of 2020 graduates should see important reminders about medical records, health insurance and eligibility for services.

Please see the medical FAQs and student health services section for health and safety guidance in addition to information about COVID-19 symptoms and what to do if you are sick. USC provides numerous mental health resources for students.