Commencement FAQ for International Students

Updated 4/14/2021

1.  Can international students who are currently in the U.S. (i.e., enrolled in classes for spring 2021 or graduated in 2020 and are currently on OPT) attend commencement?

California state health officials have confirmed the graduating classes of both 2020 and 2021 may attend commencement ceremonies in person. This applies to international students currently located in the U.S.; subject to CDC travel guidance for domestic travelers.

To avoid any unforeseeable travel/re-entry complications due to the current state of international travel, OIS recommends students remain in the U.S. if they wish to attend their commencement ceremony in May 2021.

2.  I want to attend the commencement ceremony in May 2021, but my F-1 visa has expired and I am currently outside the U.S. What are my options?

California state health officials have confirmed the graduating classes of both 2020 and 2021 may attend commencement ceremonies in person, including international students who are currently abroad if they are able to travel to the U.S.

For many international students, travel to the U.S. may be challenging, as visa appointments are not yet available in most countries.

Information for F-1/J-1 students currently enrolled in online classes from abroad for spring 2021:
Required Documents for Re-entry to the U.S.:
  • Valid Passport (valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of the re-entry to the U.S.)
  • Valid F-1/J-1 visa in passport (except students from Canada)
    • If your F-1/J-1 visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new visa at the U.S. embassy/consulate. Visa services at many U.S. embassies/consulates are not yet back to full operations so you may experience significant delays.
  • I-20/DS-2019 with a valid travel signature from OIS
    • Must re-enter the U.S. before their current I-20/DS-2019 expires
Information for F-1 students currently on a valid OPT and working from abroad:
Required Documents for Re-entry to the U.S.:
  • Valid Passport (valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of the re-entry to the U.S.)
  • Valid visa in passport (except students from Canada)
    • If your F-1 visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new visa at the U.S. embassy/consulate. Visa services at many U.S. embassies/consulates are not yet back to full operations so you may experience significant delays.
  • I-20 with a valid travel signature from OIS. Signatures are valid for 6 months.
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • Proof of current employment or offer letter
3.  I need a new travel signature. How do I request one from OIS?

Please refer to page 3 of your USC I-20 to see when OIS last signed it for travel. Each travel signature is valid for one year from when it was last signed for currently enrolled students or 6 months for students on OPT. If you need a new travel signature, please complete the OIS Travel Signature Request and email it to ois@usc.edu. Additional information on how to request a travel signature is available on the OIS website.

4.  I graduated in 2020, am currently outside the U.S. and I am not on OPT; however, I would like to attend the commencement ceremony in May 2021. Can I re-enter the U.S. on my current F-1/J-1 visa, with a B-1/B-2 tourist visa, or on the Visa Waiver Program?

International students who graduated in 2020 or enrolled in spring 2021 as non-F-1/J-1 students and are currently abroad may not re-enter the U.S. using their USC I-20/DS-2019 because it is inactive/invalid. An F-1/J-1 visa is only valid when presented to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) in conjunction with an active/valid USC I-20/DS-2019.

Students may apply for a tourist visa (B-1/B-2) at a U.S. embassy/consulate instead; however, most U.S. embassies/consulates have not resumed full services at this time and tourist visas are lowest priority for processing. Unless you already have a valid tourist visa in your passport, chances of securing a visa appointment in a timely manner are very low.

Students from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program may enter the U.S. using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

Students from countries where travel to the U.S. is currently prohibited cannot fly directly to the U.S. from their home country. They must first spend at least 14 days in another country before attempting to enter the U.S.

5.  Are the U.S. embassies accepting visa applications at this time?

Visa services at many U.S. embassies/consulates are not yet back to full operations. Priority is given to F-1/J-1 student visa applicants. Tourist visas are lowest on the current priority list at U.S. embassies/consulates, so unless you already have a valid tourist visa in your passport, chances are low for securing a visa appointment in a timely manner.

6.  Are there travel restrictions I should consider?
  • Travel restrictions remain in place for travelers coming from China, Iran, Brazil, and South Africa.
  • Travel restrictions remain in place for travelers (other than F-1/F-2 and certain J-1/J-2) coming from the European Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland.
  • International travel is still in a fluid state as the pandemic evolves. New travel restrictions could arise at any moment, which could lead to significant disruptions while in transit.
  • There remains limited availability of commercial flights worldwide and flight cancellations and travel disruptions are common.
  • Students entering the U.S. should expect delays upon inspection at Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Currently, practices at U.S. ports-of-entry are mixed, with some returning students being allowed entry, and others being questioned extensively during the immigration process at LAX and other U.S. ports-of-entry.
7.  Can my family members come to Los Angeles from abroad to attend my commencement ceremony?

Graduating student may invite two guests to the commencement ceremony. International guests are permitted, so long as they are fully vaccinated. Friends and family at home can also watch live on our virtual platform. 2021 Graduates must register guests through the Marching Order registration system.

Those traveling from Canada to the U.S. by air can enter the U.S. using only their passport.

Those traveling with a valid B-1/B-2 visa, who are not from a country where travel to the U.S. is currently prohibited, can travel to the U.S.

Those traveling from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program may enter the U.S. by air using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

Travelers coming from a country where travel to the U.S. is currently prohibited cannot fly directly to the U.S. from their home country. They must first spend at least 14 days in another country before attempting to enter the U.S.

8.  What are Los Angeles County Department of Public Health requirements upon arrival in Los Angeles from abroad as of April 7, 2021?

For those planning to travel to Los Angeles for commencement ceremonies, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has recently updated its advisory regarding travel, in light of the County’s recent reclassification to the less restrictive Orange Tier in the State of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy:

  • Travelers who are fully vaccinated, meaning 2 weeks have passed after their second dose for Pfizer or Moderna, or after their single dose of Johnson and Johnson, are at lower risk and can now travel within the United States. They are not required to test or quarantine upon their arrival in Los Angeles County if they do not have any symptoms of illness.
  • Travelers who are not fully vaccinated must quarantine for 7 full days after travel if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result taken 3-5 days after their arrival and before returning to campus. If a traveler does not get tested after they arrive in Los Angeles County, they must quarantine for a full 10 days before returning to campus.
  • All travelers, regardless of their vaccination status, must self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after their arrival, and should get tested and isolate if they develop symptoms.
9.  When is my commencement ceremony?

A series of ceremonies will take place twice a day from May 14 through May 25. Graduates will attend based on their school’s designated date or dates. These dates will be assigned by the third week of April, once the university receive RSVPs from all graduates. Students will receive an email from Marching Order to log back into the reservation site to confirm their RSVP. Please consult with your academic department for more information about your commencement ceremony.

10.  Due to personal/visa issues, I cannot attend my commencement ceremony. What are my options?

For those who cannot join us in Los Angeles, all in-person activities will be broadcast online, live, and on-demand for future viewing. The university is building a new digital platform to host a memorable, feature-rich remote experience for all who participate. Every school will host a virtual celebration for its graduates on May 13.