Since all PAU classes are online, will that cause problems with my F-1 status?

 No.  Per the SEVP (the Student and Exchange Visitor Program) FAQ published on 3/23/2020, F-1 students who are enrolled online full time for spring and summer 2020 are considered to be maintaining lawful F-1 status.  Students who are outside the U.S. but enrolled full time in online courses for spring and summer 2020 are also considered to maintain lawful status.


Can I or should I travel outside the U.S.?

PAU strongly discourages both domestic and international personal travel at this time. Any international or domestic travel should be taken with extreme caution, and after checking for any developments of travel restrictions for both the country/area being traveled to, and where you are travelling from. Check for travel updates here:   travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html

List of travel advisories

  • Concerns to consider:
    • The area you are travelling to, could experience an outbreak and implement a quarantine, and you would not be able to leave that area until the quarantine is lifted.
    • Travel restrictions are imposed on returning to the SF Bay area at the time you want to return.
    • You will increase your potential exposure to COVID19 through air travel and almost certainly will have to quarantine for 14 days once you arrive at your destination.
    • Consider health insurance coverage at your destination – will you have insurance coverage in case you are sick?
    • Are you able to be flexible in case your travel in either direction is delayed – in coursework you may be enrolled in, or work you may be doing?
    • Consider purchasing flights or other parts of travel, such as hotels, that has flexible cancellation. The extent to which different airlines or other companies are reimbursing purchases varies tremendously.
How do I get a travel signature?
I-20 travel signatures are valid for 1 year after issuance for enrolled students.
I-20 travel signatures are valid for 6 months after issuance for graduates on OPT.
If you need an updated travel signatureEmail lharris@paloaltou.edu. I will create an updated I-20 for you with a new travel signature and either snail mail or email it to you, whichever you prefer.

What if my F-1 visa is expired?

If your visa is expired and you remain in the U.S. that is fine.  If you travel outside the U.S. you will not be able to apply for a new F-1 visa to re-enter the U.S. at this time!  From Dept. of State:

"In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

Services to U.S. citizens continue to be available. More information is available on each Embassy's website.

Although all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments are cancelled, the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee is valid and may be used for a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased within one year of the date of payment.”


What about OPT?

OPT logistics for current applicants

  • New OPT I-20 – Once you have all your application I-765 and all supporting documents ready, please make an appointment to see me so we can review the packet together.  I will then issue you a new I-20 form, and mail it to you.  Remember, you send a *copy* of this new I-20 form, and you keep the original.
  • Mailing Services: General mail services in the US are not currently expected to be interrupted.  You can use the services of shipping services from stores such as Staples or Office Depot, or any regular post office location. 
  • Delays with USCIS?  As of late March 2020, USCIS has not published any anticipated delays in processing OPT applications.  Much of their work is already remote, so this is unlikely to be a big disruption for this particular service that they provide.

New applicants – OPT applications will process with USCIS as expected, to the best of my knowledge.  Regular OPT rules will apply once OPT is approved – from the approved OPT start date, OPT rules allow for up to 90 days of unemployment time. OPT employment can be part-time (at least 20 hours) or full-time, and can be paid or unpaid.  It must be directly related to the degree you have just completed. You can also change employers as often as you like during OPT.

Graduates currently on OPT – There are no changes in the existing rules related to OPT. Make sure you understand your employer’s options for sick leave, should you become ill or even concerned that you might be getting sick. Your employer should also be giving clear direction about remote work options, and expectations during the Coronavirus situation. If you have travel (international or within the US) or conferences planned, please work with your employer to understand how to best manage these plans. Lastly, make sure you understand your health insurance that you have through your employer, in case you need it should you become sick.

You can follow USCIS in case they make any updates related to OPT here: https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/uscis-response-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19   As of March 23, 2020, USCIS closed its in-person operations only, and will continue its usual processing unrelated to in-person appointments.  OPT does NOT require an in-person appointment.

Where can I get updates?

NAFSA: Association of International Educators has an excellent site that is updated regularly with immigration changes related to maintaining F-1 status, travel and work authorization.:



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