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 deeply troubled by the updated guidance that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released on July 6 requiring international students to take at least one in-person class to maintain their visa status. We are very proud of our international students and their families across the world, many of whom have sacrificed so much to enable them to come to America. This policy is especially concerning as it comes in the midst of a global health pandemic when universities need the autonomy and flexibility to adopt nuanced, multi-faceted models of instruction and research while preserving the health, safety and well-being of all of our students, faculty and staff. 
 
To our international student community – please know that we are strongly advocating against this policy and are working closely and collaboratively with higher education colleagues across the nation. USC’s deans and senior leadership are working tirelessly with the faculty to support your academic progress.

Given the broad range of courses being offered, both in person and online, we are optimistic we will be able to support our international students to study in person safely if they wish, but it may take a few days. We will provide updates as soon as possible. See the FAQs below for the latest information.

USC adheres to the guidance from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which is a unit within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that oversees the F-1 international student visa program. Due to the rapidly evolving situation with COVID-19, SEVP issued guidance in March 2020 to universities that allowed for increased flexibility to ensure international students could continue their academic progress while taking classes online during the spring and summer semesters.

SEVP recently issued guidance for fall 2020 that requires F-1 international students in the United States to enroll in a combination of both in-person and online classes (at least one class must take place in person). Students who do not enroll in at least one in-person class for the fall semester must leave the United States.

USC's academic advisors will help international students who are in the United States identify appropriate classes for the fall semester to meet this requirement.

Based on the latest guidance from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), continuing international students in the United States must remain enrolled in a full course of study during the fall. Students may enroll in a combination of in-person and online classes as long as they are enrolled in at least one in-person class.

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.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) previously confirmed that continuing international students (those who were enrolled in the United States in spring 2020) could temporarily take their classes online during a university’s period of modified instructional format either from within the United States or outside the country. This guidance expires at the end of the summer term.

While continuing students may still take classes online from outside the United States for fall 2020, the latest SEVP guidance is unclear about whether the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records may be kept active for these students. We will update students as soon as we receive additional clarification.

New/incoming international students currently outside the United States (admitted for fall 2020) do not have the same flexibility. Most new students will be able to enroll 100% online from outside the United States. However, new international students may not enter the United States on a student visa and enroll only in online courses – doing so is considered a violation of immigration status. New students should contact their academic program to discuss fall enrollment options.

USC is planning to offer classes in multiple formats (in person, online and hybrid) for the fall semester. Please view the revised schedule of classes for fall 2020 via Web Registration. You will receive additional details about enrollment options from your school or department.

USC has already issued digital I-20 forms (a document required for obtaining a U.S. student visa) to all first-year international students who have committed to enroll. If you have not received yours, check your USC email account; there should be a message with instructions on accessing your I-20.

You should immediately begin the process of obtaining your student visa. Visit the U.S. State Department’s EducationUSA site for a step-by-step guide.

A key element of the student visa process is a one-on-one interview with a consular officer. Although brief, such interviews are required and must be scheduled in advance. We understand that many U.S. embassies and consulates have not yet resumed their visa processing operations, but they may do so soon. We also know that when they do restart, there will likely be a backlog of requests, which is why it is imperative that you work on this now. Check with the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country; for further information please visit EducationUSA. Emergency visa appointments may be available.

If you are unable to obtain a student visa in time to arrive in Los Angeles by mid-August, you may still enroll at USC this fall by taking your first semester coursework remotely. If you pursue this online option, you won’t have to obtain your student visa until later this fall; you will still need it in order to start on campus in January.

Immigration regulations require students who enter the United States on a student visa to be enrolled in coursework that is in person and on campus. Coming into the United States with student immigration status (F-1/J-1) and then not fulfilling the in-person enrollment requirement is considered a serious violation of immigration status. For this reason, the 100% online enrollment option is only available to students who will be outside the United States during the fall semester.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance for fall 2020 is unclear about whether new/incoming international students may enter the United States with F-1 status and enroll in a combination of online and in-person classes, which is allowed for continuing students. We will update students as soon we receive further clarification from SEVP.

The university has saved a spot for you in its entering class and is counting on you to enroll this fall. We understand, however, that the inability to obtain a student visa, difficult travel restrictions, and time zone challenges may lead students to consider requesting an enrollment deferral.

For now, we ask that committed students attend orientation and register for a full schedule of fall courses. In mid-July, after we’ve reviewed where things stand, we will have further information about the availability of deferrals based on your status.

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.

We are committed to your academic success, and we will provide ongoing support to our international students as the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve. We are here to help.

The U.S. Department of State temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. embassies and consulates as of March 20, 2020. Visa services are now available at some consulates, but others remain closed. At this time, the U.S. Department of State is unable to provide a specific date when full visa services will resume worldwide. Please consult with your academic program about your options if you are unable to return to the United States for in-person instruction once it resumes at USC.

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.

The decision about whether to return to your home country is a personal one and should be considered carefully, in consultation with family when possible. The university wants you to be where you will feel most comfortable, and USC will offer fall 2020 classes in a variety of formats (in person, online and hybrid).

The latest Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance for the fall semester indicates that F-1 international students in the United States are not able to enroll in 100% online classes. Instead, a combination of in-person and online classes will be required for students who wish to remain in the United States with F-1 status.

International students are still required to maintain a full course load during this temporary transition to online instruction. 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) approved by USC's Office of International Services.

If you choose to return to your home country, please review the travel section of USC's Office of International Services website. Please keep in mind that international travel is in a fluid state, and new travel restrictions could arise at any moment.

If you decide to travel to your home country but still need a travel signature, you may request a reprint of your I-20, and we will email you a digitally signed I-20. Travel signatures are valid for one year, so please check your current I-20 before requesting a new one.

Students requiring a new I-20 for return travel to the United States should visit USC's Office of International Services website for instructions on the current request process.

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.

You have three options:

1) Remain in the United States and apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). This applies to F-1 students.

2) Remain in the United States until 7/14/2020 during the 60-day grace period after graduation.

3) Pursue another degree in the United States and transfer your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record to another institution.

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 of 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 of 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.

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.

Travel Restrictions and Guidance

Students Currently in the United States

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:

Students Currently Outside the United States

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

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.

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

COVID-19 Testing

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).

Summer Health Care via USC Student Health

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.

General Health Care Information

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.