COVID-19 Updates for International Students and Scholars

Updated: May 18, 2020

USC’s COVID-19 website includes a dedicated page for international students. Please refer to this website for answers to frequently asked questions about the fall 2020 semester.

How to Access OIS Services Remotely

The Office of International Services is providing remote assistance to our international community. The physical offices at UPC and HSC are closed until further notice.

OIS Live (Virtual Front Desk/Drop-in Advising via Zoom)

Monday, Wednesday: 2:00 – 4:00 PM
Tuesday, Thursday: 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Join Zoom Meeting https://usc.zoom.us/j/93537901871

Zoom Group Advising

OIS will offer group advising sessions via Zoom. Refer to the OIS eCalendar to view upcoming session topics.

OIS Email

  • For all F-1 student related inquiries: email ois@usc.edu
  • For all J-1 Exchange Visitor immigration related inquiries: email J1exchg@usc.edu

Document Processing Requests

  • To request OPT/STEM OPT Extension I-20: Refer to the instructions provided on the OIS OPT page or STEM OPT Extension page
    • If you have questions after reviewing the website please send an email to:
  • For all other document processing requests (i.e. travel signature, program extension, reduced course load, leave of absence, letter requests, etc.): Complete the appropriate OIS Request Form and email it to ois@usc.edu
    • Subject Line of email should identify Type of Application: Name of Student, SEVIS #
      • Example: Travel Signature: Tommy Trojan, N0012345678
      • Example: Program Extension, Tammy Traveler, N0012345678
    • Include your preferred mailing address in the body of the email

Maintaining F/J Status 

Fall 2020 Guidance for F-1 International Students (updated 7/24/2020)

On July 24, 2020, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) released updated guidance regarding the fall 2020 semester. OIS staff created a PowerPoint overview of the SEVP guidance for the fall semester. Please review.

Online Courses

The Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has confirmed international students who were enrolled during Spring 2020 semester may temporarily take classes online during USC’s period of modified instructional format, either from within the US or outside the country, without impacting their immigration status.

  • USC will not take any specific action to end student records for individuals who remain enrolled full time and are outside of the US for more than five months.
  • Students who continue to make normal progress in their course of study remain eligible for admission to the US when travel restrictions are lifted.
  • The allowance for 100% online coursework is temporary, applies only to continuing students enrolled at USC, and will no longer apply once the university returns to regular in-person instruction.

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 OIS.

US Visa Processing Suspended

The Department of State has temporarily suspended routine visa services at all US Embassies and Consulates as of March 20, 2020. Visa services will resume as soon as possible but the State Department is unable to provide a specific date at this time. For the latest information on visa appointment availability, check https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/wait-times.html#

Travel 

If you choose to return to your home country, please review the travel section of the OIS website. Please keep in mind that international travel is in a fluid state, and new travel restrictions could arise at any moment. You do not need an I-20 to depart the US. If you require a travel signature, OIS can email a new digitally-signed I-20 to you. Refer to the Document Processing Requests section on this page for instructions on how to request a travel signature.

In the event you cannot return to USC from your home country, your academic program will assess your options. The University is committed to supporting your academic progress.

Update Your US Address

Immigration regulations require all current international students to report any change in their US address in OASIS within 10 days of moving. This information will be updated in students’ SEVIS records. If you are currently outside of the US, you are not required to update your address.

Immigration regulations require F-1 students on post-completion OPT or on STEM OPT Extension to report their current employment, address, and telephone information to SEVP.

OPT I-20 Application Requests for Summer 2020 Graduates

OIS is accepting OPT I-20 application requests for summer 2020 graduates. Students can access the OPT instructions on the OIS website to initiate the application process.

Current regulations state that you must be present in the United States when submitting your Optional Practical Training (OPT). 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. If you have already requested an OPT I-20 but will not be able to remain in the United States until USCIS receives your application, USC’s Office of International Services can provide a new OPT I-20 when you return to the United States.

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. Any updates will be posted to the University’s designated COVID-19 site for international students as they are available.

SEVP Provides Updated Guidance on OPT Requirements

For the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will allow students to work fewer than 20 hours per week and still meet the OPT employment requirements. SEVP did not specify a minimum number of hours at time, only that students should still be working and reporting employment to SEVP as required.

F-1 students on post-completion OPT or STEM OPT Extension must report changes of employer, address, and telephone number to SEVP. Temporary remote work arrangements do not need to be reported to SEVP, however students should document these arrangements for their own records.

CARES Act/Economic Impact Payment Information for International Students

Sprintax has provided an overview of the economic payment eligibility. It also includes information on amended returns for students who may have misfiled as well as instructions on returning the economic impact payment.

Students and scholars can also contact a tax specialist. Gary Engler is a Certified Public Accountant with expertise in non-immigrant taxes, particularly for international students and scholars. He has created a 30-minute video presentation for the international audience to help explain eligibility requirements for Economic Impact Payments authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).

Legal Disclaimer: USC is not endorsing the services of Gary R. Engler & Company and expressly disclaims any responsibility for the content of this video. USC did not participate in the development of this video’s content, nor did USC review it for accuracy. USC is including the link for informational purposes only. OIS cannot advise on tax related issues. Students and scholars should consult their own legal and/or tax advisors with questions about their own individual situations, including eligibility for federal stimulus funds, immigration status, and tax obligations.


Health Related

USC Student Health

In alignment with the Safer at Home order for control of COVID-19 issued by the LA County Department of Public Health, USC Student Health has implemented operational changes in the way students can access health services on campus.

Ways to Stay Well During Stressful Times

Counseling and Mental Health (CMH) Services has listed suggestions which may help members of the USC community as daily routines get upended and disrupted during these unprecedented times.

If you would like to speak with a counselor, you can book a TeleHealth visit on MySHR. For those students interested in sharing their experiences, check out the Zoom-based Let’s Talk outreaches or ongoing therapy groups.


Basic Needs Support for USC Students

It can be difficult to focus on academics and other educational endeavors when a student is struggling with basic needs (i.e. acclimation/adjustment, financial issues, legal aid, housing, food insecurity). There are resources available from USC Campus Support & Intervention (CSI) and USC Student Equity and Inclusion Programs (SEIP) should you find yourself struggling with basic needs in your time as a student.

If you would like to speak with a CSI staff member about your specific circumstances, please email uscsupport@usc.edu. If you would like to get in touch with SEIP, please email basicneeds@usc.edu.


Technical Assistance for Online/Distance Learning

Zoom: Email consult@usc.edu or dial (213) 740-5555, Option 1.

Blackboard: Email blackboard@usc.edu or dial (213) 740-5555 and select Option 2.


Staying Connected

Virtual Engagement Opportunities in Student Life

Student engagement opportunities and student life activities are essential parts of your USC experience. As courses continue online, Student Affairs is working to provide students with as many ways as possible to stay involved in student life.

Mindfulness in the Age of Social Distancing

Please make sure you are mindful of your overall health during this stressful time. We have compiled a list of tips to help you stay healthy and happy while practicing social distancing.

ALI Conversation Groups

In lieu of in person Conversation Groups, USC American Language Institute will offer Conversation Groups online. ALI’s Conversation Groups are a FREE resource that aims to help international students practice their English conversation skills with a native English speaker. Sessions will take place 4 times a day, 5 days a week.

For more information and to view the full schedule of classes, please visit ALI’s website.