International Students FAQs
If you have been issued an I-20 to come to the University of Cincinnati for a future term, regardless of whether you studied online a previous term from your home country or you deferred your admission outright to the next semester, there are several things we need you to do and understand for your arrival.
Under current COVID-19 pandemic guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), new F-1 students must be enrolled full-time and must be participating in at least one in-person course to enter the U.S. If DHS guidance changes, we will notify students immediately.
UC will remain largely online for instruction for the next semester and some programs may not be able to offer an in-person course. Please confirm the availability of at least one in-person course with your admitting department/college before coming.
All incoming international students who will be physically present in the U.S. are required to fully complete our Pre-Arrival Checklist. There are 9 Tabs on our checklist. If you have a passport and visa you can complete Tabs 1 – 6 now. You won’t be able to complete tabs 7 - 9 until you arrive in the U.S. and can download an I-94 arrival/departure record. Most of you will likely be on Tab 3 of the checklist when you log in. To complete the checklist you need to log in at https://ibearcatsglobal.uc.edu using the “Limited iStart Services”. DO NOT use the Full iStart Services link to access the checklist. Those who will be enrolling this spring from outside the U.S. should NOT complete the spring Pre-Arrival Checklist.
Since Spring Semester 2020, DHS has temporarily relaxed many of the enrollment regulations for F-1 students. Key relief measures include
- F-1 students in the country at the time the pandemic started can be enrolled in any combination of courses including all online courses.
- Students in the U.S. at the time the pandemic started who have left the U.S. are able to remain active as F-1 students in the SEVIS system regardless of the length of time spent abroad and can accumulate time abroad towards meeting eligibility requirements for benefits such as Optional and Curricular Practical Training (OPT and CPT).
- Students who entered the U.S. after the pandemic started who have completed one semester with an in-person course can enroll for all online courses for subsequent semesters.
- Students who entered the U.S. for the first-time after the pandemic started must complete two semesters of study in the U.S. before being eligible for OPT and CPT (unless enrolled in a graduate program that requires participation in CPT during the first academic year of study). Time spent enrolled from outside the U.S. prior to entering cannot be counted towards meeting CPT and OPT eligibility.
- Students who entered the U.S. for the first-time spring semester can take summer semester as a vacation term.
If you will be traveling by air into the United States (U.S.), regardless of your country of origin, you must show a negative COVID-19 test result within three days of your scheduled flight or be able to provide documentation of recovery from a COVID-19 diagnosis through a letter from a licensed health care provider or public health official stating that you have been cleared for travel. In addition, if you are from one of the countries listed below, Presidential Proclamations prohibit your entry into the U.S. if have spent any time, including airline layovers, in these countries during the previous 14 days. F-1 student visa holders will be granted a national interest exemption and will be permitted to enter.
· China (excluding the Special Autonomous Regions of Hong Kong and Macau)
· Czech Republic
· South Africa
· United Kingdom (including Scotland and Wales)
Anyone who is coming to UC for the first time or returning to campus from an international trip is required to report to University Health Services by downloading the COVID Check App and following the guidance for quarantine.
The University of Cincinnati has restricted all international travel for faculty, staff and students traveling for UC business or educational purposes. Faculty, staff and students who decide to travel outside the U.S. will be subject to reporting and self-monitoring or other protocols upon return. Please review the previous questions in this FAQ for further details.
Further complicating this issue is the fact that the U.S. Department of State has only recently announced that they will be resuming routine visa services due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While good news, re-openings will be a phased in approach and will be contingent on COVID-19 conditions in specific countries. At this point we are unable to provide a specific date when each consulate/embassy will resume specific visa services, or when they will return to processing at pre-Covid workload levels. Students will need to consult their individual U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s website for information regarding operating status.
Students who arrived for the first time Spring Semester 2021 can take the summer off as a vacation term if you plan to enroll for Fall 2021. You can remain in the U.S. or go home for the summer. Please make sure you check with your program of study about curricular requirements before taking the summer off. Some programs do require summer enrollment or require co-op or other experiential learning opportunities beginning Fall Semester. We call these Curricular Practical Training (CPT) opportunities. You must complete two semesters (30 weeks) of full-time study to be eligible for these opportunities. If you don’t enroll full-time for the summer, you can’t count summer semester towards CPT eligibility.
New students only need to be enrolled for in-person courses during their first semester in the U.S. For subsequent semesters students can enroll in all online courses as long as the university has limited in-person course offerings.
All F-1 students have a 60 day grace period to depart the US from the date of program completion. International students looking for options to stay in the U.S. after graduation should consult with UC International Services about immigration and visa options. Students can reach UC international Services by phone at 513-556-4278 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
However, two options are readily available to international students to consider and include:
- Students could consider applying for an OPT even if they do not wish to use it. The application must be mailed within the 60 day grace period following program completion. Most OPT applications take 90 days for DHS to process. Once the OPT is approved, students are allowed to remain unemployed in the US for an additional 90 days. Taking this course of action would give a student approximately a 6-month window to reside in the US until lockdowns / travel restrictions in their home countries are eased. Please note that F1 students do not need an offer letter from a company to apply for OPT.
- Students could also consider applying for a tourist visa citing the pandemic and lack of ability to travel as the reason. Taking this course of action would result in a change of status from F-1 to B-2 tourist. This would entail filing an I-539 application to change/extend non-immigrant status with USCIS and the student will be allowed to stay while the while the application is being processed. On successful approval, a student gets a maximum of 6 months from their program completion date to remain in the US.
If the current on-campus employment opportunity has transitioned to remote work or the employment can be done through remote means, students may continue to engage in on-campus employment remotely. However, anyone who is remote working from overseas must contact their hiring department about permission to continue working remotely from overseas. Also be sure to adhere to the 20 hour per week limitation for on-campus employment while school is in session.
The university currently prohibits all academic related travel, including for co-op assignments. However, an exception is made for international students who have returned to their home country because of the COVID-19 pandemic. International students who have returned home and will be engaged in co-op must remember to submit a curricular practical authorization through UC International Services and the iBearcatsGlobal system. Co-ops done outside the U.S. will allow students to maintain an active SEVIS record.
Students may engage in CPT during their time abroad provided they are engaging in CPT in their home country and provided:
- You are enrolled in a program of study in which CPT is integral to the program of study;
- UC International Services has authorized CPT in advance of the CPT start date; and
- Either the employer has an office outside the United States or the employer can assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives electronically.
Prior to the COVID 19 pandemic it was mandatory for students on OPT to work full-time. However, during the pandemic this requirement has been waived and a student on OPT (with a valid EAD card) could work any number of hours between 1 and 40 and not be in violation of the OPT rules. However, the OPT unemployment rules still remain in effect. Students on the 12 month OPT period are limited to 90 days of unemployment and students on the 24-month STEM OPT extension are limited to 150 days of unemployment.
There is no link between your program completion / graduation date and job offers. You are required to graduate irrespective of whether you have secured a job offer or not. You can always apply for an OPT which on acceptance, grants you an additional 90 days to look for a job within the US. Please note that delaying graduation due to the COVID 19 pandemic is not permitted.
Under current conditions, if an active F-1 student leaves the United States to complete the spring term online, their SEVIS record will remain in active status and not be terminated. While the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, students are not subject to the five-month rule and are deemed to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study.
The answer to this questions depends on where you intend to pursue your new program/level of study. If you intend to pursue your study at UC you will need to obtain a new I-20 for the new program/degree level. To obtain a new I-20 you will need to submit documentation of your admission to the new program and sources of financial support to UC International Services. It is recommend that you obtain the new I-20 before you depart the U.S. but it can be done up to 60 days following your graduation. In this case your new I-20 would be mailed to you.
If you will be pursuing the new program/degree level at another U.S. institution you need to submit the “Transfer Out Request” eform to UC International Services. You will need to have your letter of admission to the new school to make this request. UC International Services will then transfer your SEVIS record to the new school who will then issue you a new I-20 to study at their school.
Please keep in mind that all travel advisories discussed elsewhere in this document apply (travel to a CDC Level 3 warning country, visa services being suspended, etc.).
Yes, any student who returns home and completes their courses from overseas will graduate as scheduled. Where you complete your courses has no impact on your ability to graduate.
Students with pending OPT applications should not travel currently.
Students who are unable to return in-person for spring semester due to visa issues or other travel restrictions can enroll in online courses and maintain active SEVIS status.
We recommend that invitations to all visitors be put on hold until travel restrictions and visa operations return to normal and the pandemic is under control. Exceptions can be made for visitors coming to engage in COVID-19 research or treatment. Faculty and staff inviting international visitors to campus should contact UC International Services with questions about invitation and visa processes to ensure the proper visas are being secured, that the appropriate export control screenings are conducted, and reasonable start dates are being selected during this difficult time.