DHS Confirms Guidance for the Spring 2021 Semester

Dear Students:

With the spring semester quickly approaching, the Office of International Services (OIS) would like to share what we know at this time to help students determine their academic plan. Please read the rest of this message carefully, as it contains important information pertaining to the spring 2021 semester.

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

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

On December 9, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) clarified that for the spring 2021 semester 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 semester. 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 remains in Phase 2 of its reopening plan in which current state and local health restrictions prohibit USC from increasing in-person instruction and on-campus activities. While at this time USC is hopeful to offer increased opportunities for in-person instruction starting in spring, any plans that USC makes for the spring semester 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 spring 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 spring 2021 may continue to take online classes. 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 spring semester may continue to take classes online. 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 spring 2021 semester should consult with their academic advisor regarding the possibility of a Leave of Absence (LOA). Students must submit a Leave of Absence (LOA) form to OIS by the start of the spring 2021 semester. Students on an LOA must leave the U.S. for the duration of the leave period, except for leaves 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 spring 2021 may continue to take online classes. 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 spring 2021 may continue to take online classes. 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 statuswhich includes students admitted for the summer or fall 2020 semesters who began their programs from outside the U.S. – and wish to enter the U.S. for spring 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 hybrid or in-person course for the spring 2021 semester. This will require you to have at least one hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for Spring semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class as of 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 spring 2021 semester, and can 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 statuswhich includes students admitted for the summer or fall 2020 semesters who began their programs from outside the U.S. – and will remain outside of the U.S. for spring 2021 may continue to take online classes in non-F-1 status. 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 spring 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 spring 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 spring 2021 courses. This will require you to have at least one hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for Spring semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class as of 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 spring 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 hybrid or in-person course for the spring 2021 semester. This will require you to have at least one hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for Spring semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class as of 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 spring 2021 semester, and can 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. and have an initial attendance I-20 for a change of degree level – who wish to return to the U.S for spring 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 hybrid or in-person course for the spring 2021 semester. This will require you to have at least one hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for Spring semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class as of 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 spring 2021 semester, and can be permanently removed once the student arrives in the U.S. and emails the completed OIS Validation for Higher Degree form and a photocopy of their USC I-20 to ois@usc.edu.
  • 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 spring 2021 may continue to take online classes in non-F-1 status. 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 spring 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 spring 2021 may take online classes in non-F-1 status. These students have an STU55 hold on their account, which restricts course registration for the spring 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 spring 2021 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 December 17, 2020, for students who were enrolled in the fall 2020 semester.

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

  • Spring 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.?

  • Spring 2021 admitted students who are currently outside the U.S. and wish to enter the U.S. with an initial 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 hybrid or in-person course for the spring 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 hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for Spring semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class as of 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 spring 2021 USC I-20 must contact the USC Office of Admission I-20 processing team at usci20@usc.edu.
  • Spring 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 for Spring. Log in with your USC email address. OIS will replace your STU50/STU60 hold with an OIS70 hold. The OIS70 hold does NOT prevent course registration for spring 2021. It simply indicates that you are enrolling from abroad for spring 2021. 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 spring 2021 and to find a suitable schedule of online courses.
      • USC Office of Graduate Admission (GA) will issue updated I-20s for spring 2021 admitted students
    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:

  • Any plans for returning the U.S. may be disrupted due to difficulty acquiring a student visa, travel/entry restrictions, or for some students, lack of available hybrid or in-person classes in your academic program.
  • Students with valid F-1 visas do not need to apply for a new visa before traveling to the U.S. to resume their studies.
  • On January 12, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an Order requiring all air passengers arriving to the US from abroad to get tested no more than 3 days before their flight departs and to provide proof of the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight. This Order will go into effect on January 26, 2021.
  • Travel restrictions remain in place for all travelers coming from China, Brazil and Iran.
  • Many U.S. embassies and consulates are still closed, although some have begun a phased resumption of routine visa services on a post-by-post basis and are beginning to prioritize student visas. Continuing students who need a new visa are eligible to apply; however, issuance of the visa is at the discretion of their local U.S. embassy or consulate. Many students with confirmed visa appointments have had their interviews postponed multiple times or cancelled.
  • Traveling with all the required documents gives students the best chance to enter the U.S. without incident; however, should any student experience problems at an airport or land border port-of-entry, they may call the USC Immigration Clinic Emergency Hotline at (213) 740-7435 and leave a detailed message including their name, date of birth, nationality, current location, airline and flight number, phone number and email address. A representative from the Immigration Clinic will provide initial guidance.
  • Travelers arriving in Southern California are required to self-quarantine for a minimum of 10 days, avoid all contact with others, not visit grocery stores or restaurants, and only have food delivered. Students should continue to monitor themselves closely for symptoms and make use of USC’s COVID testing program and strictly follow USC public health guidelines.
  • All students returning to in-person activities in the spring of 2021 will be required to receive an annual influenza vaccine and participate in required COVID-19 testing on a regular basis.
  • Students facing challenges getting to campus for spring 2021 classes due to travel difficulties should contact their academic advisor to discuss remote enrollment options.

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. No extra RCLs are available 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
  • This will require you to have at least one hybrid class on your schedule of classes on the first day of classes for Spring semester. If you enter the U.S. with the expectation of hybrid courses and are unable to demonstrate enrollment in a hybrid class as of 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:

  • For new and continuing students currently in the U.S., and continuing students with active F-1 status outside the U.S., spring 2021 semester enrollment will count 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.
  • Currently, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will allow students to 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 a means to assess student engagement and attainment of learning objectives remotely.

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 few months have 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 spring 2021 semester.

As we approach the end of fall classes, we want to wish everyone a successful and enriching semester, and we will stay in touch with more updates in the coming weeks.

Take care and stay safe,

Office of International Services