Fall 2021 Guidance for F/J Visa Holders

Summary of guidance:

  • The March 2020 guidance has been extended to the 2021-2022 academic year.

  • International students on F-1 visas are still expected to enroll in a full course of study for fall 2021 (typically 9 credit hours for graduates with a few exceptions found here, and 12 hours for undergraduates),

  • Continuing international students (those enrolled prior to Fall 2021) with active SEVIS records may enroll in fully online coursework as long as they meet full-time enrollment requirements,

  • New international students (those planning to attend UNCG within the U.S. for the first time in Fall 2021) must be enrolled in a minimum of 1 credit hour (out of 9 total) of face-to-face (LEC) or hybrid format courses in fall 2021. 

In summary, the guidance enables schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19. The March 2020 guidance applies to nonimmigrant students who were actively enrolled at a U.S. school on March 9 and are otherwise complying with the terms of their nonimmigrant status, whether from inside the U.S. or abroad. SEVP will not issue a temporary final rule impacting nonimmigrant students for the fall school term. This means that if you have been in possession of an active, valid F-1 visa since March 9, 2020, may enroll in a full course of online study for the fall 2020 term whether inside the US or from within your home country. 

In accordance with March 2020 guidance, nonimmigrant students in new or initial status after March 9 will not be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100 percent online. This means that in order to secure a new F-1 visa and enter the U.S. to begin your studies at UNCG in the fall 2020 term, you must be able to confirm that you are not enrolled in only online courses. If you plan to enter the U.S., we recommend enrolling in a minimum of one face-to-face or hybrid format course to maintain visa compliance. If you are unable to secure your F-1 visa in time for fall 2020 entry, you are allowed to enroll online from within your home country. For these students, we will issue an updated form I-20 with a program start date of January 2021, based on your intended entry period. For more information, please contact our offices. 

Visit www.ICE.gov/COVID19 for the latest COVID-19-related information and guidance. Please continue to refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of State and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for the latest COVID-19 information, specific port-of-entry screening processes, as well as any travel restrictions.

If you have case-specific questions related to your F-1 status that are not addressed by these FAQs, please contact the International Programs Center at isss@uncg.edu. All questions related to graduate assistantships should be directed to the Graduate School at gradinquiry@uncg.edu.
For additional COVID-19 updates, please refer to the UNCG’s COVID-19 updates website.

Additional Information

Stakeholders can refer to SEVP’s current policy guidance and frequently asked questions at ICE.gov/Coronavirus, under the Nonimmigrant Students and SEVP-certified Schools header:

SEVP recently updated its frequently asked questions with information to clarify the application of the March 2020 guidance to the 2021-22 academic year and will continue to update these resources with the latest information and guidance for stakeholders. The program will continue to provide updates to the academic community through our communication channels, including Broadcast Messages, SEVP field representatives, Study in the States blog posts and social media.

Stakeholders should continue to refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for the latest COVID-19 information, visa issuance updates, and specific port-of-entry screening processes, as well as any travel restrictions.

COVID-19 FAQs for F/J Visa Holders

Do I need to be vaccinated before returning to campus before the Fall semester?

UNCG has not yet announced a decision regarding student vaccination requirements for the 2021-2022 academic year. Please continue to monitor your UNCG email address and the UNCG Coronavirus (COVID-19) Webpage for more information. If you are planning to live on campus, please contact Housing and Residence Life for more guidance.

What is the current operational status of UNCG for Fall 2021?

UNCG plans to operate in a hybrid format meaning that courses will be offered in a variety of instructional delivery methods (in-person, online, or a hybrid of both) to maximize schedule flexibility, practice social distancing, and ensure in-person access as much as possible. For more information on adjustments to the Fall 2021 academic calendar and student course schedules, please see the UNCG COVID-19 FAQ page.

In general, what are the enrollment requirements for international students (F-1 visa holders) in Fall 2021 based on the most recent SEVP update?

Students who have been issued an “Initial Attendance” Form I-20 must enroll in a full course of study with at least one face-to-face/hybrid course this Fall if they plan to live in the U.S. and have their SEVIS record activated. Please note, this does not apply to students currently in the U.S. under the F-1 status who plan to enroll in a new level of study in the fall. Refer to the "Continuing F-1 Visa Holders" paragraph below for more information.

Continuing F-1 visa holders (including transferring directly from another U.S. institution or change of education level at UNCG) are allowed to be enrolled 100% online and remain in the U.S. while otherwise maintaining F-1 status. International students will need to enroll in a full course of study that contributes to the timely completion of their degree program, which typically consists of the following:

  1. Undergraduate students are required to be enrolled in at least 12 credit hours per semester. 
  2. Graduate students must generally be enrolled for at least 9 credit hours.

Some continuing F-1 students may be eligible to enroll for less than full-time or be considered full-time with fewer hours than stated above. If you believe you qualify for an exception to full time enrollment (outlined here) please contact IPC at isss@uncg.edu for further instructions as you will be required to complete the appropriate request in the ISSS Portal.

Will my SEVIS record be activated this Fall?

As long as your registration meets full time enrollment requirements as listed above, IPC will be able to activate SEVIS records for continuing students, even if you are outside the U.S. for the Fall semester. Again, students with an “Initial” I-20 must be physically present in the U.S. and register for at least one face-to-face/hybrid course to be eligible for SEVIS record activation.

What happens if the operational status of UNCG or the UNC System as a whole transitions to fully online during or before the start of the semester?

Our campus plans to maintain a hybrid operational model as long as permitted by the UNC System and NC Governor. Please continue to monitor updates on this page. Should the operational status of UNCG change to fully online at any point in the Fall semester, international students may remain in the U.S. and will not be put into removal proceedings based on their online studies, as long as they are otherwise maintaining status

How do I know which of my courses are being offered online, hybrid, or face-to-face?

You can view any course adjustments in UNCGenie. Please visit this resource for an update on course offerings and a how-to guide for more information.

Do I need a new I-20?

No. The amended SEVP guidance issued on July 24 does not require that continuing students receive an updated I-20 to confirm the operational status of the university; however, if you are entering the U.S. from an international location, please be sure to print this memo in addition to all other required documents (see below).

What do I need to know before attempting to (re)enter the U.S.? Will I have to quarantine upon arrival?

If you are attempting to enter the U.S. to begin or continue a degree-seeking program at UNCG while in F-1 nonimmigrant status, please be sure to print this memo in addition to the other required documentation listed here. If you are a continuing UNCG student, you must also request a travel signature via the ISSS Portal. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued guidance currently permitting DSO’s to issue electronic copies of I-20s due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so you can receive a travel signature even if you are currently outside of the U.S. Request a travel signature via the ISSS Portal (login here).

The U.S. now requires negative PCR COVID-19 tests prior to boarding flights to the U.S. Please consult this webpage for more information.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends a 7 day quarantine period after arriving from international travel, but this is not a university mandate at this time (note: this is subject to change and we will announce accordingly). You must, however, carefully monitor your symptoms at all times throughout the semester, and report any symptoms and leave campus immediately if they appear. Reporting your symptoms is required by the university, and failure to do so can result in disciplinary action. Please review the UNCG Coronavirus (COVID-19) Webpage for a full list of requirements when coming to campus this Fall.

If my country is on the COVID-19 Restricted Country list, am I still able to enter as an F/J visa holder? What about my dependents?

Yes! There is a National Interest Exception for all current and future student visa holders (including their dependents) who are citizens of countries currently appearing on the restricted country list. Additional information can be found below:

  1. UNCG students currently holding an F-1 visa that are planning to continue their enrollment in fall 2021 or planning to return to continue OPT (STEM and standard) are automatically afforded a National Interest Exemption (NIE) to return to the U.S. for fall. 
  2. If you are currently outside of the U.S. or will be over the summer and you are already in possession of a valid, non-expired F-1 visa foil, you will not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. any earlier than July 18, 2021, but you will be allowed to re-enter. 
  3. If you are a newly admitted student planning to apply for an F-1 visa to begin your studies at UNCG for the Fall 2021 semester, you will be able to enter the U.S. anytime on or after July 18, 2021 (30 days prior to your program start date of August 17, 2021). 
  4. You are not expected to quarantine prior to your departing flight to the U.S. or after your arrival to the U.S., as you must provide a negative PCR COVID-19 test in order to board your international flight.
  5. Per Fall 2021 SEVP COVID-19 Guidance, issued April 26, 2021 - there is no requirement for original I-20 documentation. Full information is available here. All that is required is a digital copy of your forms I-20 (whether initial for visa application purposes, or for travel authorizations to our continuing and OPT students) sent via email. These digital forms will then be printed on your home computers, signed by you, and presented at the US Consulate or port of entry (customs). These will be considered official by all relevant governmental organizations. Please save yourself the expense of express shipping while you can!

North Carolina relevant information

On May 14, 2021 the North Carolina Governor announced that, effective immediately, maintaining social distance and wearing face coverings are no longer required in most public settings. Face coverings remain required while using public transportation, in childcare settings, in schools, in long-term care facilities, and in healthcare settings. Many private businesses also have decided to continue to require face coverings in their facilities.

UNC Greensboro relevant information 

UNCG has decided to adapt the Governor’s order to meet its unique campus circumstances. UNCG will maintain the following practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus through mid-June:

  • Face coverings will continue to be required when inside University facilities.
  • Individuals should continue to be respectful of others and maintain social distance. 
  • If you develop COVID-like symptoms, do not attend campus activities or report to the workplace.
  • Complete the self-report form and get tested, regardless of vaccination status.
  • If you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive, complete the self-report form, and we will give you guidance about whether or not you should get tested and/or quarantine.
We will update this information as UNCG guidelines change.

Students are not required to receive a COVID-19 vaccination to return to campus in the fall however, all (students, faculty, and staff) are highly encouraged to get vaccinated. If you have not received a COVID-19 vaccination before traveling to the US, the UNCG Student Health Services is administering vaccines on Thursdays throughout the summer or by appointment. Larger vaccination clinics will be organized at UNCG during the first few weeks in August when all students return to campus.

You can also get a COVID-19 vaccination in one of the following community locations: CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Genoa Healthcare, Triad Adult & Pediatric Medicine, Walmart and Costco Pharmacies   

Other Important COVID-19 vaccination information

As of May 13, 2021, the World Health Organziation (WHO) has listed the following COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines (e.g., COMIRNATY, Tozinameran)
  • AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccines (e.g., Covishield, Vaxzevria)
  • Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine
  • Moderna COVID-10 vaccine
  • Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine

People who have received all recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that has been listed for emergency use by WHO do not need any additional doses with an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine.

People who received all or some of the recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that is neither authorized by FDA nor listed for emergency use by WHO may be offered a complete FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine series. The minimum interval between the last dose of a non-FDA authorized vaccine or a WHO-listed vaccine and an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine is 28 days.

As a new UNCG student, what is required of me to arrive to the U.S. and begin my program this Fall?

Students beginning their program at UNCG this term who have been issued an “Initial” I-20 may not take 100% online courses this Fall. To request permission for entry into the U.S. at the Port of Entry, please be sure to print the memo issued by IPC confirming UNCG’s hybrid operational status for Fall 2021 and plan to register for at least one face-to-face/hybrid course, if you have not already done so. IPC cannot activate SEVIS records for students with an Initial I-20 who are enrolled in all online courses.

What is the latest I can arrive in the U.S. for the Fall semester to have my SEVIS record activated? 

New students must arrive to campus no later than September 15 to have their SEVIS record activated for Fall 2021. If you are not able to arrive by this date, you will need to defer your admission to a subsequent semester (see instructions below).

I am a newly admitted student and prefer to defer my admission to a future term like Spring or Fall 2022. How do I do that? 

All requests for I-20 deferral and updated admission letters reflecting the new term must be received at IPC no later than 15 days from the program start date indicated on your initial I-20 form. Please contact IPC at isss@uncg.edu for additional instructions as your financial information may be affected and require further documentation. 

Undergraduate students should contact the International Recruitment and Admissions Office for procedures on how to defer your admission as an undergraduate student. Graduate students should complete the online deferral form located in the “Intent to Enroll” section of your Graduate School application and notify your department as soon as possible. 

I am a newly admitted student and currently outside the U.S. Can I start my coursework online from my home country and start making progress on my degree? 

Yes, you can enroll in courses online, provided that you are not living in a fully embargoed country like Iran or Syria; however, IPC will not be able to activate your SEVIS record. We will have to issue a new Form I-20 reflecting a new program start date when you are ready to apply for a visa to come to the U.S. in the future. Any SEVIS (I-901) fee that you have paid to date, will still be valid and your SEVIS ID number will not change as long as you confirm your new arrival term with us by September 1, 2021. We recommend checking with your academic department for specific enrollment requirements surrounding your program.

What will happen to my assistantship offer if I only take classes online this Fall?

IPC does not oversee university assistantship matters. Please consult with your academic department and/or the Graduate School at gradinquiry@uncg.edu for more information. Faculty are also encouraged to reach out to the Graduate School for any questions related to an international student’s assistantship eligibility.

I am a continuing student but currently outside of the U.S. Can I enroll in online courses to maintain my academic progress? How will my SEVIS record be impacted?

Yes, you can enroll in courses online, provided that you are not living in a fully embargoed country like Iran or Syria. As long as you are enrolled in a full course of study, IPC will be able to activate your SEVIS record this Fall. We will review registration as we do each semester and you will receive an email if you do not meet full time enrollment guidelines.

Please contact your academic advisor to adjust your study plan as needed and determine which classes you can take online that will contribute to the completion of your program. You also have the option to not take any classes at all in the Fall, but make sure to reach out to the Graduate School or International Recruitment and Admissions Office (undergraduates) if you decide to take a semester off.

I depend on my university assistantship to offset tuition costs and living expenses. If I am not in the U.S. for the Fall semester, will there still be a stipend or tuition assistance that I can receive?

IPC does not oversee university assistantship matters. Please consult with your academic department and/or the Graduate School at gradinquiry@uncg.edu for more information. Faculty are also encouraged to reach out to the Graduate School for any questions related to an international student’s assistantship eligibility.