DHS Extends Existing Guidance for the 2021-2022 Academic Year

Dear Students:

As USC plans for a return to campus for the Fall 2021 semester with primarily in-person classes, the Office of International Services (OIS) would like to share some information to help international students determine their academic plan. Please read the rest of this message carefully, as it contains important information pertaining to international student enrollment requirements during the 2021-2022 academic year.

There are several factors that will influence international students’ plans for the Fall 2021 semester:

  1. Guidance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

On April 26, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) clarified that for the 2021-2022 academic year, F-1 students should abide by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance originally issued in March 2020, which was also applied to the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters. This guidance allows distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19.

  1. The mode (i.e. in-person, hybrid, or online) of course instruction USC is permitted to offer per Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidelines

The university is currently in Phase 5 of its reopening plan; however, any plans USC makes are subject to change pending public health guidance.

  1. Travel restrictions and embassy closures due to the pandemic

We understand that difficulties securing a student visa or dealing with some existing U.S. entry restrictions due to COVID-19 may make it difficult for some students to get to campus for the Fall 2021 semester. Travel considerations are outlined in detail at the end of this document.

What does this mean for CONTINUING international students who are currently in the U.S.?

  • Continuing students who are currently in the U.S. in F-1 status and will remain in the U.S. for the Fall 2021 semester may continue to take online classes if offered by their academic department. These students will maintain an active Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record as long as they enroll in a full course load and otherwise maintain their immigration status.
  • Continuing students who are currently in the U.S. in F-1 status and will be outside of the U.S. for the Fall 2021 semester may continue to take classes online if offered by their academic department. These students will maintain an active Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record as long as they enroll in a full course load and otherwise maintain their immigration status.
  • Continuing students who are currently in the U.S. and do not intend to enroll in the Fall 2021 semester should consult with their academic advisor regarding the possibility of taking a Leave of Absence (LOA). Students must submit a Leave of Absence (LOA) form to OIS by the start of the Fall 2021 semester. Students on an LOA must leave the U.S. for the duration of the leave period, except for LOAs based on documented medical reasons. The five-month temporary absence provision will begin on the date of departure from the U.S.

What does this mean for CONTINUING international students who are currently outside the U.S.?

  • Continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. in F-1 status and will remain outside the U.S. for Fall 2021 may continue to take online classes if offered by their academic department. These students will maintain an active Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record as long as they enroll in a full course load and otherwise maintain their immigration status.
  • Continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. in F-1 status and wish to return to the U.S. for Fall 2021 may continue to take online classes if offered by their academic department. To re-enter the U.S., these students must have a valid F-1 visa, an I-20 endorsed for travel and all other documents listed on the travel section of the OIS website. These students will maintain an active Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record as long as they enroll in a full course load and otherwise maintain their immigration status.
  • Continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. in non-F-1 status – which includes students admitted for the Summer 2020, Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 semesters who began their programs from outside the U.S. – and wish to enter the U.S. for Fall 2021 may not take 100% online classes. These students may only enter the U.S. if they are able to obtain an F-1 visa and can confirm enrollment in at least one in-person or hybrid course for the Fall 2021 semester. This will require you to have at least one in-person or hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for the fall semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class on the first day of classes, OIS will not be able to activate your SEVIS record, which may result in you having to depart the U.S. An OIS70 hold has been placed on the accounts of all continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. in non-F-1 status. This hold will not prevent or restrict course registration for the Fall 2021 semester, and will be permanently removed once the student arrives in the U.S. and completes Passport Verification (PPV). After completing PPV, these students will maintain an active Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record as long as they enroll in a full course load and otherwise maintain their immigration status.
  • Continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. in non-F-1 status – which includes students admitted for the Summer 2020, Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 semesters who began their programs from outside the U.S. – and will remain outside of the U.S. for fall 2021 may continue to take online classes in non-F-1 status if offered by their academic department. An OIS70 hold has been placed on the accounts of all continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. in non-F-1 status. This hold will not prevent or restrict course registration for the Fall 2021 semester and will be permanently removed once the student arrives in the U.S. in a future semester.
  • Continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. and are returning from a leave of absence with an initial attendance I-20 for Fall 2021 may not take 100% online classes. Please refer to the Students Returning from LOA– Currently Outside the U.S. section of the OIS website for instructions on how to request an I-20 from OIS and how to register for Fall 2021 courses. This will require you to have at least one in-person or hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for the fall semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class on the first day of classes, OIS will not be able to activate your SEVIS record, which may result in you having to depart the U.S.
  • Continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. and have an initial attendance I-20 for purposes of traveling to change their status to F-1 and who wish to return to the U.S for Fall 2021 may not take 100% online classes. These students may only enter the U.S. if they are able to obtain an F-1 visa and can confirm enrollment in at least one in-person or hybrid course for the Fall 2021 semester. This will require you to have at least one in-person or hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for the fall semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class on the first day of classes, OIS will not be able to activate your SEVIS record, which may result in you having to depart the U.S. An OIS70 hold has been placed on the accounts of all continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. in non-F-1 status. This hold will not prevent or restrict course registration for the Fall 2021 semester, and will be permanently removed once the student arrives in the U.S. and completes Passport Verification (PPV). After completing PPV, these students will maintain an active Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record as long as they enroll in a full course load and otherwise maintain their immigration status.
  • Continuing students who have an initial attendance I-20 – including students returning from a Leave of Absence (LOA), traveling to change their status to F-1, or to change their degree level – who will remain outside the U.S. for Fall 2021 may continue to take online classes in non-F-1 status if offered by their academic department. An OIS70 hold has been placed on the accounts of all continuing students who are currently outside the U.S. in non-F-1 status. This hold will not prevent or restrict course registration for the Fall 2021 semester and will be permanently removed once the student arrives in the U.S. in a future semester.
  • Continuing students who have an initial attendance I-20 for reinstatement purposes but will remain outside the U.S. for the Fall 2021 semester may take online classes in non-F-1 status if offered by their academic department. These students have an STU55 hold on their account, which restricts course registration for the Fall 2021 semester. Students should contact OIS at ois@usc.edu to request the hold be temporarily lifted for registration purposes and to request an updated I-20 for a future semester.
  • Continuing students with an active or initial attendance I-20 who will remain outside the U.S. for the Fall 2021 semester and will not be enrolled in classes must file for a Leave of Absence (LOA) through OIS. The five-month temporary absence provision will begin on May 14, 2021, for students who were enrolled in the Spring 2021 semester.

What does this mean for NEW international students who are currently in the U.S.?

  • Summer and Fall 2021 admitted students who are already in the U.S. and are transferring their SEVIS record to USC may enroll in 100% online classes so long as they do not depart the U.S. before their USC SEVIS record has been activated. To activate their SEVIS record, remove the STU50/STU60 registration holds, and register for classes, transfer students must first complete Passport Verification (PPV). Students who have not yet received their USC transfer I-20 must contact the USC Office of Admission I-20 processing team at usci20@usc.edu.

What does this mean for NEW international students who are currently outside of the U.S.?

  • Fall 2021 admitted students who are currently outside the U.S. and wish to enter the U.S. with an initial attendance I-20 may not take 100% online classes. These students may only enter the U.S. if they are able to obtain an F-1 visa and can confirm enrollment in at least one in-person or hybrid course for the Fall 2021 semester. To activate their SEVIS record, remove the STU50/STU60 registration holds, and register for classes, new students must first complete Passport Verification (PPV) upon entry to the U.S. This will require you to have at least one in-person or hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for the fall semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class on the first day of classes, OIS will not be able to activate your SEVIS record, which may result in you having to depart the U.S. Students who have not yet received their Fall 2021 USC I-20 must contact the USC Office of Admission I-20 processing team at usci20@usc.edu.
  • Fall 2021 admitted students who are currently outside the U.S. and will remain outside the U.S. have two options:
    1. Begin academic program from abroad as a non-F-1/J-1 student.
      • Submit Request for Temporary Lift of Registration Hold. OIS will replace your STU50/STU60 hold with an OIS70 hold. The OIS70 hold does NOT prevent course registration for Fall 2021. It simply indicates that you are enrolling from abroad for the respective term. It also serves as a reminder that you are required to complete Passport Verification (PPV) immediately upon entering the U.S.
      • Contact your academic advisor to inform them of your plans for Fall 2021 and to find a suitable schedule of online courses.
      • USC’s Office of Graduate Admission (GA) will issue updated I-20s for future semester entry, such as for Spring 2022.
    2. Inquire about possible options for beginning your academic program in a future semester. Contact your admissions advisor or academic advisor for guidance.

Other Considerations

Travel:

Enrollment:

  • As long as continuing students in F-1 status enroll in a full course load and maintain their immigration status, USC will continue to keep their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records active even if they are outside of the U.S. for more than five months.
  • Continuing students in F-1 status should not drop below the full course load requirement unless permitted to do so either through a Reduced Course Load (RCL) or Leave of Absence (LOA) approved by their academic advisor and OIS. There are no extra RCLs available to students due to the pandemic.
  • OIS is not able to register SEVIS records for students who are currently outside of the U.S., enter the U.S. on an initial attendance I-20, and are enrolled in 100% online courses. This includes:
    • New students
    • Students returning from a Leave of Absence (LOA)
    • Students travelling to reinstate status or change status to F-1
    • For us to register your SEVIS record, you are required to have at least one in-person or hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for the fall semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class on the first day of classes, OIS will not be able to activate your SEVIS record, which may result in you having to depart the U.S.
  • All students with initial attendance I-20s will find an STU50/STU60 or OIS70 hold on their student account. These holds allow USC to ensure immigration records are in good standing for international students. Follow the instructions above to remove the holds from your account, and reach out to OIS if you need additional assistance.

Employment:

  • New and continuing students currently in the U.S., and continuing students with active F-1 status outside the U.S., may count the time spent abroad in active F-1 status towards the one academic year requirement for CPT/OPT eligibility.
  • Students must be present in the U.S. at the time of applying for OPT. Students are not permitted to apply for OPT from outside the U.S.
  • Students can engage in CPT remotely in the U.S. or abroad for a U.S. employer, provided the student is enrolled in the appropriate USC internship course and either the employer has an office outside the US or the employer has the means to assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives remotely.
  • Graduates working on OPT are permitted to work remotely for a U.S. employer within or outside of the U.S. with the permission of the their employer.

USC and OIS are committed to advocating for the members of our international community and we are here to support you. We know the past year has been very difficult, especially with so many uncertainties impacting international students. If you find yourself or your peers in need of additional support, please refer to USC’s Health and Wellness Resources for Counseling and Mental Health contact information and other support offices at USC, or consult with an advisor via OIS Live. As always, your academic advisors are also available to discuss enrollment options for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Take care and stay safe,

Office of International Services