Coronavirus FAQs

(Updated 11/09/2020)

With the ever-changing events surrounding the COVID-19, Rice international students and scholars are directly impacted – personally, academically, professionally, travel plans, as well as caring and communicating with family and friends. In addition, you must manage and maintain your immigration status, as well.

While the OISS has moved to remote / online work only, we will continue to address your questions and concerns, schedule appointments, and process requests/documents. Please be patient, as our response times may be considerably longer than normal.

The FAQs below are based on what international students and scholars are asking, and what our OISS advisors believe is important for you to know, as the situation evolves. If your question is not answered below, please do not hesitate to email oiss@rice.edu.

For information that is not specific to international students, including health resources if you believe you have been exposed, please see https://coronavirus.rice.edu/.

Please note that the FAQs below are not exhaustive and the information may vary depending on specific circumstances, or change as new guidelines and regulations are announced. OISS continues to update the FAQs as the situation evolves, so please check back often. Thank you for your patience.

OISS OPERATIONS/SERVICES

1. Is the OISS office open?

OISS currently has a limited presence on-campus. We are not able to accommodate walk-ins, but limited in-person document pick-up/drop-off services are available by appointment, please see https://oiss.rice.edu/getdocs for additional information. We will continue offering all advising appointments and online document submission via various remote options listed in the questions below.

OISS continues to host virtual office walk-in hours via Zoom, Monday – Friday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. To get the Zoom link, please visit https://oiss.rice.edu/virtualoffice (netID login required).

As always, you can also reach OISS by phone during regular office hours at 713-348-6098 or by email at oiss@rice.edu. Please also see our general Frequently Asked Question page at https://oiss.rice.edu/FAQs, as you may find the answer your question there.

2. Can I still make an appointment with OISS?

Yes! We are available for remote appointments via telephone or Zoom. Please call our main phone line at 713-348-6095 to schedule an appointment or email oiss@rice.edu.

3. How can I submit request forms, document updates, etc.?

You may submit most requests through our online submission forms. Links are listed below (OISS allows electronic signatures on all internal forms):

4. How can I request a travel signature on my I-20/DS-2019 and how long it takes to receive it?

Please email oiss@rice.edu to request one. Due to COVID-19, schools have been given permission to issue I-20s electronically. Therefore we can send you a valid I-20 with a travel signature by email. If you are on a J-1 visa, we will provide you with mailing or in-person pick-up options once the updated DS-2019 is ready. Please expect approximately a week for processing.

5. I asked my OPT card (or other mail) to be delivered to OISS. How can I get it when the office is closed?

OISS is currently receiving mail. You will be notified by email when any mail for you is delivered to OISS, and the email will include instructions for scheduling a pick-up appointment or requesting for mail forwarding, whichever is more convenient for you. For more information, please see https://oiss.rice.edu/getdocs.

6. Can COVID-19 affect my I-20/DS-2019 mailing and issuance?

We continue to process immigration documents for newly admitted students as well as issue updated I-20s and DS-2019s for current international students and scholars, as needed. Due to COVID-19, schools have been given permission to issue I-20s electronically, so you can receive a valid I-20 by email. DS-2019s for new students and scholars will be mailed in coordination with the academic departments, please contact them directly with your mailing related questions. For current J-1 students and scholars, please work with your OISS advisor to determine the best way for you to receive any updated documents. Processing times will vary from a week to longer, and mailing times are unfortunately not something we can control.

7. How can I stay informed about Rice updates, as well as OISS?

Rice and the OISS will continue to send updates as needed, and you may access Rice's COVID-19 related messages at https://coronavirus.rice.edu/communication. Rice continues to take the threat of this virus very seriously, and we truly care about your health and safety, following guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For general information, please take the time to also read the following FAQ pages, which offer a lot of important information and resources:

COVID-19 MANDATES/REGULATORY UPDATES

1. What is the current status of the Harris County “Stay-at-home order,” face mask policy, and opening of businesses in Texas?

For up-to-date information on the situation in Harris County (which is where Rice University is located), please see https://publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/Resources/2019-Novel-Coronavirus.

For information on Governor Abbott's plan to reopen Texas, please see https://gov.texas.gov/organization/opentexas.

We also recommend you stay tuned to local news for updates on guidance and rules.

2. Can I apply for a Texas Driver License or State ID right now?

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) has resumed all services, available by appointment only. More information and a link to schedule an appointment is posted at https://www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/appointments.htm.

Please note that expired licenses will continue to be honored by order of the Governor of Texas for the duration of the Governor's declaration of State of Disaster and for 60 days after DPS provides further public notice that normal operations have resumed. Therefore, you may continue driving with your expired driver license, if:

  • Your driver license expired on or after March 13, 2020, and
  • The current date is within 60 days of the end of the State of Disaster.

Please check https://www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/appointments.htm for updates. You can also download a copy of the Verification of Driver License Expiration Extension (PDF) notice at https://www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/documents/extndExpDateDL.pdf.

If you have an out of state driver license, please check with the state that issued your document to confirm whether the expiration date has been automatically extended for that particular state.

3. Can I apply for a Social Security Number right now?

The Social Security offices are currently available by appointment only. Contact the Houston Southeast office at Lakes at 610 (1-866-404-1861), or another SSA location of your choice, to see if an appointment is available.

You should make sure you have all the required documentation ready before trying to make the appointment, as rush processing by OISS and other offices cannot be guaranteed and should not be expected. Please also note that SSA has typically required original documents with original, hand written signatures, including on the Form I-20. If you are planning on applying for SSN, please contact OISS to request an updated, hand signed I-20 prior to your visit. Check https://www.ssa.gov/ for office locations and updates on SSA office closures.

4. What if I have questions about the Coronavirus Stimulus Payments/CARES Act?

It is our understanding that the Coronavirus Stimulus Payment (CARES Act) is intended for U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents based on specific income levels as reported on a 2018 or 2019 tax return. Based on most recent information posted by IRS, nonimmigrant internationals may also be eligible if they are considered resident aliens for tax purposes. Stimulus checks will be sent/direct deposited to qualifying individuals based on the address/bank account listed on their 2018 or 2019 tax return. Additional information can be found on the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus.

If you received a stimulus payment and believe it was in error, or just have additional questions, please visit this helpful blog post by Sprintax for guidance on how to return the payment: http://blog.sprintax.com/nonresident-aliens-guide-navigating-covid-19-cares-act-stimulus-payments/

Murthy Law Firm also has helpful information for you to review at https://www.murthy.com/2020/04/08/newsflash-government-report-confirms-many-nonimmigrants-eligible-for-stimulus-payment/

As a reminder, IRS will NOT call, email, or text you regarding this payment. They will not contact you to request personal or bank account information. Please beware of scammers: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-issues-warning-about-coronavirus-related-scams-watch-out-for-schemes-tied-to-economic-impact-payments

5. Who is impacted by the Presidential Proclamation that came out on June 22, 2020?

Please be assured that our office, and Rice, actively advocates to promote laws that positively affect international students, scholars, international education exchange, etc. We have worked with academic department leaders and University Administration to actively dialogue with decision-makers and legislative representatives to seek balanced regulations. These kinds of communications, letters, and support have come from associations, leaders, faculty, the business sector, and more, promoting international education exchange and support internationals. You can read the full Proclamation on the White House website.

Who seems to be the most impacted from Rice:

  • H-1B visa holders who are outside of the U.S. and need to apply for a visa stamp to re-enter the U.S.

Who seems not to be included in this Proclamation:

  • J-1 students & scholars in all of the Exchange Visitor categories used at Rice are not included as part of those affected by the Proclamation.
  • F-1 students (inlucing those on OPT, STEM OPT extension, CPT) are not mentioned in the Proclamation.
  • H-1B visa holders who are currently in the U.S., or scholars applying for change of status to H-1B inside the U.S.
  • Others, including O-1, TN, E-3 visa holders, current permanent residents, etc.

Please also check the Important Immigration Updates page at https://oiss.rice.edu/immigrationupdates, where we will continue to post helpful links as available.

6. Where can I get a comprehensive list of regulatory, visa and immigration updates, related to the COVID-19 evolving situation?

Please see the NAFSA Coronavirus Critical Resources webpage at https://www.nafsa.org/regulatory-information/coronavirus-critical-resources.

CURRENT STUDENTS

1. What is the current status of ICE guidelines for F-1 students?

In July 2020, DHS/ICE rescinded their originally posted guidelines for the fall 2020 semester, and reverted back to the previous guidelines that were in place during the spring and summer 2020. No guidelines have yet been provided for spring 2021. Students should prepare to meet standard regulatory requirements (https://oiss.rice.edu/maintaining-status) if updated accommodations are not granted for the spring 2021 semester.

2. Can you summarize the guidance that is currently in place for F-1 students and what it means for me?

Here’s a quick summary of what is in place at this time until the end of the fall 2020 semester (no guidance has yet been provided for spring 2021). Please know that your individual circumstances may vary.

  • F-1 students currently in the U.S. must enroll full-time (9 credits for grads, 12 for UGs) but are allowed to take all courses online, unless otherwise required by their academic program.
  • F-1 students currently abroad who wish to and are able to return to the U.S. should be able to do so, as long as they have maintained valid F-1 status by continuing to make progress towards their degree by enrolling online until they can enter the U.S.
  • F-1 students currently abroad who wish to stay abroad can stay in active status as long as they continue to maintain a full time course load online and make progress toward their degree.

*Special note for undergrads: Any undergraduate student who will come to campus after the semester officially starts (Orientation Week for new students, first day of classes for returning students) must inform the Dean of Undergraduates at UGdean@rice.edu of their arrival date prior to coming to campus.

3. If Rice offers classes both in person and online, can I just opt to take online courses from anywhere?

F-1 continuing students must enroll full-time (9 credits for grads, 12 for UGs) and be making progress towards their degree to maintain status. Per ICE guidance for fall 2020, continuing F-1 students are permitted to take all courses online, if necessary. Please check with your department/academic advisor regarding any academic components that would require your on-campus presence (research/courses/department requirements). Please also note that no guidance has yet been provided for the spring 2021 semester, and students should prepare to meet standard regulatory requirements if the fall 2020 accommodations are not extended.

4. Do I have to worry if I am out of the U.S. for more than 5 months?

Per the current ICE/DHS guidelines, the five-month temporary absence rule does not apply at this time to those students who can maintain their immigration status by enrolling in a full time course load online and continuing to make progress toward their degree. Please note that currently this exception is only in place for the fall 2020 semester, and no guidelines have yet been provided for spring 2021.

5. What happens if Rice decides to move to fully online during the fall semester?

Rice plans to operate under dual delivery or hybrid mode during the fall semester. However, if Rice must move to fully online, students in the U.S. would be allowed to remain in the country and maintain their immigration status by continuing full time enrollment online per the ICE/DHS guidelines for fall 2020.

6. What if I choose to take a leave of absence instead of studying remotely?

Please work with your academic department/Dean of Undergraduate's Office to officially request a leave of absence. Once approved, a leave of absence requires OISS to terminate your current SEVIS record. You would require a new initial I-20 under a new SEVIS record when you are ready to return to Rice. Please note that you would have to pay a new SEVIS fee, and your eligibility for off-campus work authorization would be affected, as you would need to complete two semesters in status before qualifying for CPT or OPT (very limited exceptions may apply in case of CPT for some graduate students). Please contact OISS to schedule an appointment if you would like to discuss this option further.

7. I'm on a J-1 student visa, what are the current rules in place for me?

Here’s a quick summary of most recent guidelines provided by the Department of State. Please know that your individual circumstances may vary and further updates to these guidelines are possible.

  • J-1 students currently in the U.S. must enroll full-time (9 credits for grads, 12 for UGs) but should be able to attend courses online, if necessary, and do not have a minimum in-person class requirement.
  • J-1 students currently abroad who wish to and are able to return to the U.S. should be able to do so, as long as they have maintained valid J-1 status and have a valid visa and a valid DS-2019 with a travel signature no older than 6 months.
  • J-1 students currently abroad who wish to stay abroad can stay in active status as long as they continue their program online.

*Special note for undergrads: Any undergraduate student who will come to campus after the semester officially starts (Orientation Week for new students, first day of classes for returning students) must inform the Dean of Undergraduates at UGdean@rice.edu of their arrival date prior to coming to campus.

8. Do I need to update my address on ESTHER?

Yes, please update all of the address fields that have changed so your ESTHER account and SEVIS record will reflect the most current and up-to-date information.

Please update your local/mailing address to where you are currently residing, even if it is abroad. Please keep in mind that you must update your address within 10 days of any change in order to maintain your immigration status.

9. I'm currently studying remotely from abroad, can I still accept/continue an on-campus job?

If the work can be done remotely, ICE is currently allowing the option due to COVID-19. OISS will need an email from the on-campus employer explaining how the student is providing the services associated with the position and how the student will be supervised while working remotely. The student should also work with Hiring Department/Payroll to ensure there are no tax reporting or payment issues while the student is abroad.

10. Does my student insurance cover COVID-19?

Please see https://oiss.rice.edu/covid19insurance for detailed information provided to us by Aetna and SAS regarding health insurance as it relates to COVID-19.

11. What happens if I complete my program or practical training but cannot return home by the end of my grace period?

We recommend you consult with an immigration attorney about changing to another visa status and your options to stay legally in the United States.

12. If Rice holds a Commencement ceremony later on campus for Spring 2020 graduates, how can I attend if my I-20 has expired?

Your I-20 cannot be extended to accommodate a graduate ceremony. You can enter the U.S. prior to the end date on your I-20, or using a new Change of Level or Transfer I-20 if you will be continuing your studies in the U.S. for a higher degree. Otherwise you are welcome to enter the U.S. to attend graduation using a tourist visa (i.e. B-2) or the Visa Waiver Program, if applicable.

13. Is there a U.S. government website where I can find immigration updates for students?

https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students

CURRENT J-1 SCHOLARS

1. I am near the end of my program, and I am concerned about finding a flight out of the U.S. within my 30-day grace period, what are my options?

We recommend scheduling an appointment with an OISS advisor, as well as contacting your embassy/consulate for travel guidance. Check https://j1visa.state.gov/covid-19/ for updated list of embassy contacts and for other important information. You may also wish to reach out to your Academic Department to see if there is a possibility of extending your program.

2. I am a J-1 Scholar at Rice planning on departing/returning home early, what do I need to do?

Please communicate with your Academic Department so they are able to follow up with the necessary shortening/termination paperwork. In addition, please complete the OISS online Departure Form.

3. Where can I access U.S. governmental resources on COVID-19/my immigration status?

See the following links and phone numbers:

4. If I have questions about my immigration status due to COVID-19, how can I contact an OISS Advisor?

To schedule an appointment with an advisor, please visit https://oiss.rice.edu/appointment, or attend one of our Virtual Office Walk-in Hours: https://oiss.rice.edu/virtualoffice.

5. How do I access medical care in the U.S. if I get sick?

In case of a life threatening emergency always call 911. If the emergency is not life threatening call the phone on the back of your insurance ID card to find an Urgent Care within your insurance Network.

To learn about your insurance benefits, to find a health professional or to learn about what your insurance covers for COVID-19 please contact your health insurance company.

Make sure that you have your Insurance ID card at all times. Your Insurance ID card has the information that you need for finding out your plan coverage and submitting a claim. You will have to present your ID card every time you go to the doctor, hospital or pharmacy.

6. Where can I find more information about my health insurance coverage for COVID-19?

If you have Rice's Aetna insurance, please visit the Aetna webpage for the latest information: https://www.aetna.com/individuals-families/member-rights-resources/need-to-know-coronavirus.html. On that webpage you can find detailed information and frequently asked questions regarding telemedicine, test and treatments and other tips to stay safe. If you cannot find the information you are looking for, we encourage you to contact the insurance company and/or Rice's Benefits Team for assistance.

If you have SAS, please visit https://wellfleetstudent.com/covid-19/.
For frequently asked questions please visit: https://wellfleetstudent.com/student-well-being/coronavirus-faq-for-student-health-members/. If you cannot find the information you are looking for, we encourage you to contact the insurance company directly.

For information on free COVID-19 testing sites in Houston, visit the Houston Emergency Operations COVID-19 website: https://houstonemergency.org/covid-19-testing/.

7. I am currently outside of the U.S. but plan to maintain my J status. What do I need to do?

If you leave the U.S. but continue to work towards your exchange program objectives while outside the U.S., you may qualify for “Out of Country” approval. For more information, including required forms and approvals, please contact an OISS advisor.

8. I just recently arrived in the U.S. with my new J-1 status. What should I do now?

Welcome to Rice! Please contact your Academic Department to let them know that you have arrived. If you are paid with Rice, also make sure to contact Human Resources regarding the I-9 and benefits process. Finally, contact OISS to start your check-in process by requesting access to an OISS Portal account. For more information, please see https://oiss.rice.edu/scholar-orientation.

Before visiting Rice campus, please contact your Academic Department for work arrangements. Finally please read any Rice updates here.

TRAVEL

1. Can I travel internationally right now?

Travel increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19, so OISS recommends caution. For more information on travel, please visit the U.S. Department of State's website on COVID-19 Traveler Information and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website on Travel during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Students who continue to make normal progress in their course of study remain eligible for admission into the United States. However, because of the changing array of travel restrictions, students should refer to their local embassy’s website through the U.S. Department of State for any updates about visa issuance. Also, DHS and the CDC websites provide information about current travel restrictions to the United States. Information from CDC is currently available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/from-other-countries.html.

Here are some factors you may want to consider if you’re thinking about leaving the U.S.:

  • The expiration of your current immigration document (e.g. I-20 or DS-2019).
  • The validity of your travel signature.
  • The validity of your visa and passport; many U.S. Consulates are still closed or offering very limited visa services, so you may not be able to renew your U.S. visa easily.
  • Are there travel restrictions in place for your destination and/or point of departure?
  • Are you able to continue maintaining your status (e.g. through online enrollment) from abroad? – Note: We have not yet received guidance for the spring 2021 semester. If no updated accommodations are granted, you should prepare to meet standard regulatory requirements for in-person attendance.
  • If you are unable to return to the U.S. as planned and there are delays, will that cause difficulties for you?

If you choose to travel, please check your I-20/DS-2019 for a travel signature, and contact OISS if you need an updated form with a new signature.

2. How long is a travel signature valid for?

We recommend 6 months, but the U.S. government requires the signature to be no older than 1 year from your date of entry back into the U.S. For example, if you got a travel signature on pg. 2 of your I-20 (or pg. 1 of your DS-2019) on 11/15/2019, technically it will be valid until 11/14/2020.

If you need a new travel signature, please contact OISS.

Special Note: If you are currently on OPT, the travel signature is only valid for 6 months.

3. What if the visa in my passport has expired?

If your visa stamp has expired, you will need to apply for a new one in order to re-enter the U.S. (Exception: Canadian citizens do not require visa stamps in their passports.) During this quickly-evolving COVID-19 emergency time, please stay tuned to https://travel.state.gov to learn about the Consulate closures or continued suspension of visa processing. Further, travel restrictions in and out of the U.S. are rapidly changing.

4. For individuals returning or arriving from abroad, is there a required prohibition period from campus?

Rice no longer requires a 14 day self-quarantine following international travel, but all travelers should still exercise caution. Please refer to the official Rice Crisis Management team's COVID-19 website and FAQs at https://coronavirus.rice.edu/ for the most up-to-date information on Rice policies.

5. Where can I learn more about current travel restrictions to the U.S.?

Here are some resources that are regularly updated with current information:

6. I am a J-1 Scholar and I'm trying to find a flight home. Can OISS help me with this?

The U.S. Department of State recommends reaching out to your Embassy in Washington D.C. for assistance. Check https://j1visa.state.gov/covid-19/ for updated list of embassy contacts and for other important information.

CPT & OPT
For general questions regarding CPT & OPT, please visit https://oiss.rice.edu/studentwork.
For general questions regarding STEM OPT, please visit https://oiss.rice.edu/stem.

1. Does OISS accept electronic signatures on CPT and OPT forms?

Yes, OISS allows electronic or digital signatures on all internal forms from students, faculty advisors, and course instructors.

USCIS does not accept digital signatures, so for OPT the Form I-765 should still be signed by hand in black ink on page 5, before mailing your final application to USCIS. Do not sign the I-765 before you submit your OPT request to OISS at http://bit.ly/optrequest.

2. What happens if I get authorization for CPT but my internship gets cancelled or delayed because of COVID-19?

Please let OISS know at https://bit.ly/cptupdates that your internship is cancelled/dates have changed as soon as you learn about it. We may need to cancel/shorten/update your CPT authorization in SEVIS properly and in a timely manner.

3. I'm authorized for CPT and my employer is now telling me to work remotely. Do I need to do anything with OISS?

Yes! Please submit the new information at https://bit.ly/cptupdates so we can update your CPT authorization in SEVIS.

4. Can I continue my CPT from abroad?

Yes, you may engage in CPT during your time abroad as long as the following conditions are met:

  • CPT is authorized in advance of your start date (as always)
  • It is an integral part of your program of study (as always)
  • Your employer has an office abroad or can assess your engagement and learning objectives electronically

5. Can I apply for OPT or STEM OPT outside of the U.S.?

Current regulations require that you be present in the U.S. when your OPT or STEM OPT application is mailed. We are not aware of any accommodations made by USCIS to change this regulation, but we will update this FAQ if such accommodations are made at any point.

6. Is USCIS still processing OPT applications?

Yes, USCIS continues to process OPT and STEM OPT applications. However, delays in card production (e.g. for OPT and STEM EAD cards) have been reported. For more information, please see https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDHS/bulletins/2969646.

7. I have submitted my OPT application (and included the Form G-1145), but I have not yet received a receipt number. What should I do?

If you have a tracking number for your shipment, please check to make sure it’s been delivered. USCIS might take up to 15 business days from that date to send you a receipt number. If you do not receive a receipt number within that time, please email oiss@rice.edu.

If you paid for the application with check or Form G-1450, you can also keep track of whether they are processing your money.

You should receive an I-797 receipt notice from USCIS within 3 weeks.

8. What happens if my OPT/STEM OPT employer requires me to work from home?

If you are working remotely for the same employer as a result of COVID-19, but the terms and other specifics of your employment stay the same, you do not need to report the physical location of your new work site via your SEVP student portal or on your Form I-983. However, you should continue to update the SEVP Portal with any other changes to your employment, your address, etc. In addition, if your immigration status has changed, or you have departed the U.S. permanently and do not intend to pursue the remaining of your OPT or STEM OPT, please notify OISS as soon as possible.

9. What happens with my OPT if only part-time employment is available at the moment?

Due to COVID-19 situation, part-time employment (i.e. fewer than 20 hours per week) is currently considered valid by SEVP for OPT employment purposes and maintaining your status. Please note that this accommodation is currently in place for fall 2020, we do not yet know if the accommodation will be extended for spring 2021.

10. I’m nearing 90 days of unemployment on OPT/150 days of unemployment on STEM OPT. What are my options?

Please contact OISS (oiss@rice.edu or 713-348-6095) to consult with an advisor about your options.

11. I was selected in the H-1B lottery and I need a Cap Gap extension. What do I do?

If you need a cap gap I-20, you may request for one at https://bit.ly/ineedcapgap. Cap gap I-20 requests will be processed as follows:

  • If your Cap Gap extension is already reflected in SEVIS, we will issue your I-20 within one week.
  • If your Cap Gap extension is not reflected in SEVIS and your OPT does not expire within the next 2 weeks, we will continue to check SEVIS for updates, and issue your I-20 once the extension is available.
  • If your Cap Gap extension is not reflected in SEVIS and your OPT is expiring soon, we will contact you for proof of filing (e.g. USCIS Receipt Notice, delivery confirmation from FedEx, etc.) so we can manually request a preliminary cap gap extension, as necessary.

NEW STUDENTS

1. What do I need to know about admissions processing?

OISS continues to process I-20s and DS-2019s for admitted students. However, we are able to process immigration documents only after (1) the student’s record is created in Rice’s system, and (2) OISS received the initial admission paperwork. At that point the student will receive an invitation to the OISS Portal, where they can upload the required documents and information. Please note that the OISS Portal invitation will be sent to their non-Rice email address.

More detailed information about the process, including step by step instructions and a list of required documents for the OISS Portal, can be found on the following pages:

Due to COVID-19, SEVP continues to allow schools to issue valid I-20s by email, so we will be sending all I-20s to the email address reported for you in SEVIS (typically your Rice University email address). SEVP has worked with both Department of State (responsible for issuing visas) and Customs & Border Protection (responsible for admitting students at the port of entry) to ensure that I-20s issued by email will be honored, as long as they are printed out and signed by hand by the student. An electronic version of the emailed I-20 displayed from your phone or other device will not be considered valid.

2. What is the current status of ICE guidelines?

In July 2020, DHS/ICE rescinded their originally posted guidelines for the fall 2020 semester, and reverted back to the previous guidelines that were in place during the spring and summer 2020. No guidelines have yet been provided for spring 2021. Students should prepare to meet standard regulatory requirements (https://oiss.rice.edu/maintaining-status) if updated accommodations are not granted for the spring 2021 semester.

3. Can you summarize the guidance that is currently in place for F-1 students and what it means for me?

Here’s a quick summary of what is in place at this time until the end of the fall 2020 semester (no guidance has yet been provided for spring 2021). Please know that your individual circumstances may vary.

  • F-1 students currently in the U.S. (e.g. transfers or change of levels) must enroll full-time (9 credits for grads, 12 for UGs) but are allowed to take all courses online, unless otherwise required by their academic program.
  • New students currently abroad who wish to enter the U.S. in F-1 status are eligible to seek entry to the U.S. within 30 days leading up to their I-20 start date, as long as they are able to begin in-person studies once here. Students who would have a fully online course load are not eligible to enter the U.S.
  • New students currently abroad who wish to stay abroad will not yet have an immigration status that would be affected. You can begin your studies remotely/fully online with approval from your department, and the activation of your immigration status would be deferred to the semester when you are able to arrive.

*Special note for undergrads: Any undergraduate student who will come to campus after the semester officially starts (Orientation Week for new students, first day of classes for returning students) must inform the Dean of Undergraduates at UGdean@rice.edu of their arrival date prior to coming to campus.

4. When are new F-1 students allowed to enter the U.S.?

New students are allowed to seek entry to the U.S. within a 30 day window based on their I-20 start date (i.e. from 30 days before the start date until the start date listed on the I-20). OISS will work with you to update your immigration documentation as needed and appropriate. Please also note that students who would have a fully online course load are not eligible to enter the U.S.

For graduate students: Any late arrival or possible deferral will also require approval from your academic department, so please make sure you also communicate with your graduate coordinator about your situation so they can help determine the best option for you.

For undergraduate students: Any undergraduate student who will come to campus after the semester officially starts (Orientation Week for new students, first day of classes for returning students) must inform the Dean of Undergraduates at UGdean@rice.edu of their arrival date prior to coming to campus.

5. If Rice offers classes both in person and online, can I just opt to take online courses from anywhere?

You may certainly take classes online from abroad, but new students who would have a fully online course load are not eligible to enter the U.S.

6. I am transferring an existing SEVIS record to Rice but I am currently abroad and unable to return to the U.S. at this time. What do I need to know?

When a SEVIS record is transferred, the new academic program must start within 5 months. Since we are unable to register students who are abroad, the transfer SEVIS record will automatically close and the I-20 you have already received will be rendered invalid.

Transfer students starting their academic program remotely from abroad may qualify for a SEVIS data fix request to reactivate their SEVIS record, as long as they maintain their student status by enrolling in a full course of study online for the fall semester. Please note that we may only submit the SEVIS data fix request once you are ready to return to the U.S. and resume in-person studies. These requests can take 30 days or more to process, and may require supplemental documentation from you. Please keep OISS updated on your travel plans and stay tuned to your email for documentation requirements. You will need a new I-20 that can only be issued after the SEVIS data fix request has been approved in order to enter the United States. A successful SEVIS data fix would keep your SEVIS ID the same, allowing you to use your existing visa if it is still valid.

Transfer students deferring their academic program to a future semester and who are therefore not maintaining their student status by enrolling for a full time course load from abroad do not qualify for a SEVIS data fix request to reactivate their SEVIS records. Therefore, in order to return to the U.S. for in-person studies for a future semester, you will require a new initial I-20 under a new SEVIS record. You will be required to pay a new SEVIS fee and possibly apply for a new visa stamp. Please also note that a new SEVIS record will reset your eligibility for off-campus work authorization, and you must complete two semesters in the U.S. with your new SEVIS record, before qualifying for CPT or OPT. OISS will reach out to you if any new documentation is required in order for us to issue your new, initial I-20.

Transfer students should notify OISS immediately for any change in their plans.

7. Will I get a new I-20?

If you do not yet have an I-20 for the spring 2021 semester, you will receive one once OISS completes admissions processing. Please keep an eye on your OISS Portal account for any additional documents we may need from you.

If you have already received an I-20 with a spring semester start date, you may still need a new one if ICE releases updated guidance on any required remarks for spring 2021. In that case OISS will automatically issue your updated I-20 as necessary.

8. How will the new I-20 be issued?

SEVP continues to allow schools to issue valid I-20s by email, so we will be sending the I-20 to the emails address reported for you in SEVIS. SEVP has worked with both Department of State (responsible for issuing visas) and Customs & Border Protection (responsible for admitting students at the port of entry) to ensure that I-20s issued by email will be honored, as long as they are printed out and signed by hand by the student. An electronic version of the emailed I-20 displayed from your phone or other device will not be considered valid.

9. If I'm studying remotely from abroad for the Fall 2020 semester, would I still qualify for CPT if I get an internship for next summer (2021)?

At this time there has been no change to the regulations. F-1 students must complete two semesters of coursework in the U.S. before they are eligible to apply for CPT. Students who are registered for a full time course load (12 credits for undergraduates, 9 credits for graduate students) for the complete Fall semester and are able to enter the U.S. and start in-person coursework during the Fall semester can count that semester towards the two semester requirement – as long as they are in legal F-1 status and are registered in SEVIS as an active student.

At this time students who enter the U.S. for the spring semester would not qualify for CPT in the summer of 2021 (very limited exceptions may apply in case of CPT for some graduate students). If any updated guidance is provided by SEVP regarding CPT regulations, we will update this FAQ.

10. What are the current rules in place for students with J-1 visas?

Here’s a quick summary of most recent guidelines provided by the Department of State. Please know that your individual circumstances may vary and further updates to these guidelines are possible.

  • J-1 students currently in the U.S. must enroll full-time (9 credits for grads, 12 for UGs) but should be able to attend courses online, if necessary, and do not have a minimum in-person class requirement.
  • New students currently abroad who wish to enter the U.S. in J-1 status are only permitted to do so if they will be attending in-person courses and meet all other exchange aspects of their J-1 program.
  • New students currently abroad who wish to stay abroad will not yet have an immigration status that would be affected. Students may begin studies remotely/fully online, however the activation of the J-1 immigration status would be deferred to the semester when the student is able to arrive to attend in-person courses and meet all other exchange aspects of their J-1 program.

*Special note for undergrads: Any undergraduate student who will come to campus after the semester officially starts (Orientation Week for new students, first day of classes for returning students) must inform the Dean of Undergraduates at UGdean@rice.edu of their arrival date prior to coming to campus.

FUTURE J-1 SCHOLARS WHO ARE CURRENTLY ABROAD

1. I was issued a Rice DS-2019. Can I enter the U.S. whenever I want?

You cannot enter more than 30 days prior to your program start date or more than 30 days after your program start date. In addition to having the DS-2019, you must also have a valid U.S. J Visa (Exception: Canadian citizens do not require visa stamps in their passports) and a valid passport.

Make sure to check the CDC website for travel restrictions as well your airline for any flight delays. You may want to purchase travel insurance or request flexible dates for travel as entry to the U.S. during COVID-19 can be very fluid in regards to entrance/no entrance.

2. I already received my J visa stamp and now my program dates are delayed. Do I have to apply for a new visa?

No, you will most likely not need another visa stamp. Please check the expiration date of the visa stamp in your passport. If you are able to arrive before that expiration date, you will not need to apply for a new visa, even if your arrival date will change.

3. If I have decided to not come to Rice, is there anything I need to do?

Yes, please notify your Academic Department, and send an email to oiss@rice.edu. If you have received your DS-2019, you will have to return it to: Rice/OISS at 6100 Main St., MS-365, Houston TX 77005.

4. I don’t think I am going to be able to arrive at Rice by the start date on my DS-2019, what should I do?

Please contact your Academic Department to update your program dates. Keep in mind that you need to have a valid DS-2019 and visa stamp at the time you enter the U.S.

5. Where can I submit my proof of health insurance?

Your health insurance documentation will be collected through the OISS Portal as part of your check-in process. Please see https://oiss.rice.edu/scholar-orientation for more information.

6. I will be paid by Rice and want to enroll in Aetna, when can I enroll in the Rice/Aetna health insurance plan?

You must submit your Beta insurance to OISS as part of your check-in process. For more information, please see https://oiss.rice.edu/scholar-orientation.

New employees have 30 days from their hire date (or benefits eligibility date, whichever is later) to enroll in benefits.

You will be able to enroll in Rice Aetna, 1 week after you check-in with HR. Once you have enrolled you will send to OISS, your Employee Detail Report, that can be found in www.benefits.rice.edu.

You can start learning about Aetna Memorial Hermann ACO and Aetna Select HMO plans now at http://people.rice.edu/benefits-rewards/.

If you have questions about Aetna plans or how and when to enroll Aetna, please contact the Benefits office at 713-348-BENE (2363) or e-mailing benefits@rice.edu.