International Student Back to Campus & COVID-19 FAQs

Updated October 5, 2020

As of October 5, 2020, information regarding Global Programs' response to Penn State's alternate learning models, answers to questions and concerns pertaining to immigration issues during this time, and resources available to assist students, faculty, and staff is now available at

This webpage will remain active for your reference, however, users are encouraged to visit the new site for the most current information.

Our University and our world are confronting an unprecedented challenge. We are weighing the needs of our international students in all our decisions and the Penn State administration and your faculty members are working tirelessly to make decisions to support you as you continue your academic work in the least disruptive way possible. Our top priority is protecting your health and well-being as we continue to support your academic progress.

Penn State Resources:

As Penn State continues to prepare for the return to campuses, Back to State will continue to be updated with information and resources for students, and for faculty and staff.

Visit Penn State Keep Learning for resources to access the information students need for courses this fall.

Look for University updates and answers to many of your personal and academic questions on the Penn State coronavirus information site: 

NEW FAQs  |  Immigration-Related Questions | Visas | Employment | Penn State First | Housing & Food Services | Student Health Insurance | Resources

On July 6, 2020, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced that it would no longer provide exemptions for international students taking online classes due to the pandemic during the fall 2020 semester. As of July 14, 2020, an announcement has been made to rescind the order. See below for details below regarding the July 26, 2020 guidance clarifications.

Disclaimer: On July 15, 2020, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued an FAQ.  The July 15 FAQ comes on the heels of a resolution reached by ICE and Harvard/MIT in connection with a lawsuit filed challenging the July 6 directive that if implemented would have blocked the ability for many international students to remain in or enter the United States.

Based on the court resolution, ICE agreed to cancel the July 6 directive and revert to a policy that existed in March. On July 24, 2020, ICE issued Clarifying Questions for Fall 2020. This document represents our best reading of the ICE guidance and regulations.

NEW FAQs as of August 10, 2020

EMPLOYMENT: Can I work on campus remotely and get paid from the university from my home country?

Working in your home country is not an immigration question. It is a tax and human resources question based on tax law and labor law. Therefore, DISSA cannot answer. -updated August 11, 2020

STUDENT HEALTH: My bill in LionPath shows that I am being charged for Student Health Insurance.  I will be taking classes from my home country and not attending classes on campus.  How do I cancel my health insurance if I will not be in the U.S. this fall? Global Programs will be working with the Student Health Insurance office to identify students that are not in the U.S.  If you are charged the insurance fee, your account will be credited the fee in the next billing cycle. If you do not see a credit in the next billing cycle, please contact the Student Health Insurance office. Please call 814-865-7467 or email -updated August 12, 2020
STUDENT HEALTH: I am going to be taking all online courses from my home. Do I need to provide proof of immunizations?

All Penn State students planning to arrive at a Penn State campus this fall semester are required to meet the immunization requirements of the University - Student Affairs/Immunizations

For new international students that remain outside the United States, the proof of immunization requirement will be waived for the duration of their remote learning. However, international students will still be required to meet immunization requirements when they are able to attend campus in person. Global Programs will work with the Immunizations office to identify those students that are outside the U.S. and thus waived temporarily from this requirement. -updated August 12, 2020
CLASSES: What are my options to find classes in the instruction mode (online, in-person, mixed) that I desire? Please use LionPath to review the available courses and the delivery mode for each. If you are unable to find courses to fit your needs through your regular campuses then please see the “Multi-Campus Registration” information available at the Keep Learning website. Multi-campus enrollment will be available one week prior to the start of classes. -updated August 12, 2020
CLASSES: After we switch to online learning after Thanksgiving break, is it going to be synchronous or asynchronous or both? All classes after Nov 20 will be online. The responsibility of the curriculum is overseen by the academic unit and the faculty member. Based on the pedagogy of the curriculum, each department will determine whether their class will be asynchronous or synchronous. For the most current information on fall courses, visit Keep Learing.
CLASSES: If I am having issues with classes and need a tutor, are these services still available if I am learning remotely? A wide range of tutoring and other support services will be available through remote platforms. Please consult the Student Support Resources website for more information.
HOUSING: I want to make sure that if I attend on campus at University Park in the spring that I am guaranteed housing as well, even though I am not attending on campus for the fall.

Please consult the Housing and Food Services website on your Penn State campuses website. Each campus has a specific information regarding housing and food information. University Park students are encouraged to visit Housing/Fall 2020.

In general, when you submit the cancellation request of the Housing and Food Services contract for the 2020-2021 academic year, you can indicate that you would like the spring portion to remain active. The Housing Assignment Office will not be able to guarantee your specific preferences as you will be assigned to wherever a vacancy is available in the spring semester. If you do not have a fall HFS contract, you may add your name to the Housing Waitlist, which will open at noon on October 1 in eLiving. The Housing Assignment Office will notify students by early December if housing is available on campus for spring semester. Please contact for more specific information.
OTHER: I am taking all online courses from my home. Why do I have to pay the International Student Fee? The international student fee supports a wide range of activities and programs that assist international students regardless of where the student is located. These activities include compliance support, Penn State First programming, student engagement support, specific international student activities and programs still accessible remotely. We recognize that expanding online course options for students requires an equivalent expansion of our support remotely. -updated August 12, 2020
OTHER: The global pandemic is really affecting my finances. Are there any scholarships available to me an international student? Penn State is a public university that receives some funding from the government and from taxpayers. There is, currently, essentially no financial aid available for international undergraduate students, however, students are encouraged to reach out to their colleges and departments for options. U.S. Citizenship or legal permanent residency is a requirement for federal funds; Pennsylvania residency is a further requirement for state funds. However, Penn State University has authorized two scholarship funds that provide a limited number of tuition grants exclusively for international students: The Special International Grant-in-Aid (SIGIA) and the Penn State Tuition Assistance Grant (PSTAG). These funds are administered through the Directorate of International Student and Scholar Advising (DISSA) of Global Programs. Although tuition grants are available for graduate students from other sources, these are the only tuition scholarships for which undergraduate international students are eligible. For more information, please visit Global Penn State. -updated August 12, 2020

Immigration-Related Questions

What is the current policy?

On July 15, 2020, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued an FAQ document for universities to follow with respect to international students in Fall 2020. This FAQ replaces the now rescinded July 6 directive blocking online only students in the United States.  On July 24, 2020, ICE issued clarifying questions to supplement this guidance. -updated July 27, 2020

Does the current policy apply to continuing F-1 international students with an active SEVIS record at Penn State? What are my options for fall 2020?  

Yes. Continuing international students can take classes in various modes: in-person, hybrid, or fully remote from the United States Most universities are following a mixed delivery method like Penn State. Our understanding is that there will be no effect on your SEVIS record as long as you remain enrolled full time and have no other violations of status such as unauthorized employment or unauthorized drop below full-time enrollment. -updated July 27, 2020

Can an F-1 international student with an Active SEVIS record take a fully online course load in fall 2020 at Penn State from inside the United States?

  • Continuing international students may take a fully online course load from the United States, because of the temporary exemptions in place under the July 15 ICE FAQ.
  • International students with INITIAL SEVIS 1-20s who are seeking to enter the United States may not take fully online classes in fall 2020 in the United States. -updated July 27, 2020

Can a new international student take a fully online course load from outside the United States?

Yes. An I-20 and active SEVIS record are not required to enroll in online courses from outside the United States. New international students will not be activated in SEVIS in fall 2020, but they will be activated after arrival in the United States and enrollment in in-person classes.

New students who remain outside the U.S. but enroll while overseas should request a new I-20 from DISSA by completing the DEFERRED ARRIVAL PROCESS in iStart by November 1. -updated July 27, 2020

Can a continuing F-1 international student take a fully online course load in fall 2020 at Penn State from outside the United States? What happens to the SEVIS record? 

Yes. If the student began in summer 2020 or earlier and have an active SEVIS record, the student can take a fully online course load in fall 2020 from outside the United States. The SEVIS record will remain active as long as the student maintains full-time enrollment. -updated July 27, 2020

What if I am a continuing F-1 international student with an active SEVIS record who is out of the United States for more than 5 months?

Based on the outcome in the Harvard/MIT lawsuit and the July 15 FAQ, our reading is that international students with active SEVIS records may keep their active SEVIS status as long as they enroll full-time. When Penn State returns to normal operations, students must return to campus to maintain active SEVIS status. -updated July 27, 2020

How does the 5-month rule apply to F-1 international students who are transferring from another SEVIS-approved school?

According to the July 15 FAQ, the five-month rule related to transfer students will not apply to students affected by COVID-19. SEVIS transfer students who exceed the 5-month period should contact an international student adviser by completing a SUBMIT A QUESTION eform in Depending on the circumstances, the international student adviser may have to request a data fix from SEVP. -updated July 27, 2020

What immigration laws govern online and in person learning?

One important regulation is 8 CFR 214.2 (f)(G) which states in part: “For F-1 students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter may be counted toward the full course of study requirement if the class is taken on-line or through distance education and does not require the student's physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class...”  

The July 15 FAQ by ICE exempts continuing international students from the regulation, meaning that they can take more than one class/three credits of online or remote instruction in Fall 2020.

What authority does the government have to waive the one course/three-credit requirement in the regulations? Why would ICE exempt some international students from the regulations but not every international student?  

The government used its discretion to allow continuing international students to take online courses in excess of these regulatory requirements due to the pandemic. Discretion is a powerful tool in immigration law and one that has been used historically to protect people during emergencies. -updated July 27, 2020

I am a new international student scheduled to start my studies at Penn State University in fall 2020. Will I be able to start my studies as planned?

Yes, but take note of the following:

  • New international students outside of the United States may take classes 100% online while they remain outside of the United States.
  • International students with an INITIAL SEVIS I-20 may not enter the United States to take fully online classes.
  • International students with an INITIAL SEVIS I-20 may enter the United States if the student’s schedule is not 100% online. Our best reading is that international students with I-20s marked “initial attendance” taking at least one in-person class (this could be 100% in person or courses that are a mixed delivery with a meaningful component in person) may still be able to study in the United States. -updated August 10, 2020
What if I start the fall 2020 semester under an in-person or hybrid model but the class then moves to online during the semester? According to the July 24, 2020 guidance, students pursuing studies in the United States for the fall 2020 school term will be able to continue studying from within the United States if a university moves online.  -updated August 10, 2020
If a student transfers their SEVIS record to Penn State for fall 2020 will they be considered a continuing or new student for enrollment purposes?
  • If the transfer student is already in the United States or enters the United States and checks in with DISSA at Penn State, the student would be considered a continuing student for enrollment purposes.
  • If the transfer student is outside of the United States and does not enter the United States for fall 2020, the student’s SEVIS record will remain in initial status and the student must SUBMIT A QUESTION eform in iStart -updated August 10, 2020
What immigration laws govern online and in person learning?

One important regulation is 8 CFR 214.2 (f)(G) which states in part: “For F-1 students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter may be counted toward the full course of study requirement if the class is taken on-line or through distance education and does not require the student's physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class...”

The July 24 Clarifying Questions by ICE exempts new and continuing international students from the regulation, meaning that they can take more than one class/three credits of online or remote instruction in Fall 2020. For continuing students, this may include a hybrid of online and in-person classes or a completely online course load. For new students, this may include a hybrid of online and in-person classes. However, as stated above, new international students may not enter the United States to take fully online courses in fall 2020. -updated August 10, 2020





I heard that U.S. visas are being issued. Is this true? 

Yes. The Department of State announced a phased resumption of routine visa services on July 14, 2020. The resumption of visa services will occur on a post-by-post basis so long as it safe for Department of State personnel to return to work. Students should check with the specific consulate site to its operations by going to

The proclamations from the White House restricting certain travelers from entering the United States due to COVID-19 remain intact. Notably, the Department of State announced on July 16, 2020 that F-1 international students would be exempt from the proclamations banning certain travelers from the Schengen Area, UK, and Ireland. updated July 27, 2020

If I enroll full time while in the U.S. and my visa expires, do I need to renew my visa? No. As long as you remain in the United States, you do not need to renew your visa because your valid stay is governed by your I-94 and your I-20 or DS-2019. -updated August 10, 2020
If I am a continuing student and remain outside the United States, do I need to get a new F-1 visa? No. If your F-1 visa is still valid, you do not need to apply for a new visa regardless of your SEVIS status. -updated August 10, 2020
For new students, does DISSA need to re-issue the I-20 to indicate that the student will not have a schedule that is 100% online in order to obtain a visa and enter the United States? No. Under the July 24 Clarifying Questions by ICE, this is no longer necessary unless there are other substantive changes that would trigger a Form I-20 update. -updated August 10, 2020
The Clarifying Questions from ICE dated July 24 states that international students enrolled in a course of study in the United States on March 9, 2020, and who subsequently left the United States will likely remain eligible for a visa since the March 2020 guidance permitted a full online course of study from inside the United States or from abroad. Does this mean I will get a visa? Visa issuance is under the jurisdiction of the Department of State and not under SEVP which is under the Department of Homeland Security.  While it is ‘likely’ a continuing student would get a visa, the Department of State has discretion to issue or deny the visa. -updated August 10, 2020





As a continuing student in Active SEVIS status, how does the current situation affect my ability to apply curricular practical training or optional practical training?

  • We do not have a guidance on how CPT and OPT are affected by students enrolled in remote classes, but we assume since you are main in active status in fall and are enrolled full time, that there is no effect.
  • You should not be affected as long as you meet the requirement of full-time study for one academic year. -updated August 10, 2020

I am a new student starting in fall 2020, and I plan to enroll remotely while outside the United States my first semester.  Will I be eligible for an internship  (CPT) in summer 2021? 

  • At this time, our response is ‘no’ that you are not eligible for CPT or even OPT if you are in a one-year program. We are hoping that SEVP provides guidance soon because this is a frequent question.
  • Students need to be enrolled full time for two consecutive semesters in F-1 status in the United States to be eligible for CPT and OPT.
  • If a graduate program of study requires an internship in the first year, then it is permissible for DISSA to authorize CPT but not recommend OPT. -updated July 27, 2020


If I am enrolled full-time overseas with an Active SEVIS record, am I eligible for F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

If you meet all of the eligibility requirements, you are still eligible for OPT.  However, the application for employment is on the form I-765 which requires you to submit the application while in the United States. OPT applications are processed by USCIS, and USCIS has been consulted by ICE but has not yet provided guidance. When you sign the I-765, you are certifying you are filing the form while you are in the United States. -updated July 27, 2020




Penn State First

Do students need a new I-20 from DISSA if they attend Penn State First – either in Shanghai or Seoul?

No. An I-20 is not needed for study outside the United States.  If students have an I-20 now, they should request a deferral of their start date after September 1, 2020.  If students do not yet have an I-20, an I-20 for a January 2021 start date will be issued after September 1. -updated July 27, 2020

Will a transfer student need a new I-20 for study overseas?

No.  An I-20 is not needed for study outside the United States. -updated July 27, 2020

Do students in Penn State First – either Shanghai or Seoul – need to purchase health insurance?

No. Students do not need to meet the Penn State Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) until arrival on campus. -updated July 27, 2020

How and when do we pay the tuition for Penn State First?

The student will receive their tuition bill on LionPath as other Penn State students.

Will pre-arrival orientation be virtual for Penn State First?

Yes, the pre-arrival orientation will be virtual.

Can students in Penn State First cancel their on-campus housing contracts, meal plans and health insurance?

If a student is in the Penn State First program, they will automatically be cancelled from their on-campus housing contract. They will also not be billed for the student health insurance program.

If I have questions about the Penn State First program in Shanghai or Seoul, who do I contact? And, where may I find additional information?

Reach out to email for questions about either program location, or students may reach out to their specific Education Abroad adviser is in the network tab.

Penn State First Seoul

Penn State First Shanghai




Housing & Food Services

For more information on Housing & Food Services, please visit Back to State \\ Students & Families.

If I am scheduled for all remote-learning classes and not returning to campus, can I cancel my Housing and Food Service (HFS) Contract?

Yes. Upper-class students who are scheduled for all remote-instruction classes and wish to live at home for the fall semester may request to have the Fall 2020 HFS contract cancelled and keep the Spring 2021 HFS contract active. Submit a Contract Cancellation Request through eLiving.

To avoid fall room and board charges being applied to the August billing statement, the deadline to request an HFS Contract Cancellation is noon on Monday, July 27. Please note, the Housing Assignment Office is not able to guarantee that your spring room assignment will match any preferences. You will be assigned to any vacancy that is available. Details about spring semester housing will be provided in December.

If I am scheduled for in-person classes but no longer want to live on campus, can I cancel my Housing and Food Service (HFS) Contract?

Students who want to move off campus for fall and spring semesters have until noon on Wednesday, July 15, to submit a HFS Contract Cancellation Request. Cancellations that are processed before that deadline will have no penalty fee applied. After the July 15 deadline, students who are interested in living off campus will be required to submit the HFS Contract Release request paperwork, along with any supporting information. The request will be reviewed by the HFS Contract Release Committee. A penalty fee may be incurred for cancellations that are approved after July 15.

If I am scheduled for all remote-learning classes and not returning to campus, can I cancel my Campus Meal Plan?

If you had a HFS Contract, your meal plan will also be cancelled. If you live off campus and purchased a meal plan, your meal plan can be cancelled with no penalty. Please email for assistance. LionCash+ does not need to be cancelled; any funds on LionCash+ will be available in future semesters.

Will students be required to arrive back to campus 14 days early to quarantine prior to moving into dorms?

The University is asking students, prior to returning, if they have exhibited COVID-like symptoms or have reason to believe they were exposed to COVID-19, to self-quarantine and seek testing in consultation with a health care provider. Further, as a precaution, the University encourages all students who can to self-quarantine prior to arrival. As students arrive from across the United States and around the world, we understand that self-quarantine may not be possible, and students are encouraged to follow all health precautions. Penn State will have a fully operational health protocol in place upon students’ arrival and all students are asked to adhere to all medical recommendations and associated services related to the COVID-19 virus. More information will be shared regarding the steps the University is taking to maintain health and safety precautions.

Should the University see the need to close that campus due to the spread of COVID-19, what on-campus living options will be available to international students who are unable to return home?

The University continues to monitor state and national disease data and follow guidance from state and local health officials. Based on that guidance, and in consultation with faculty experts in epidemiology, medicine and public health, the University is prepared to adjust its approach as necessary, including the possibility that Penn State would need to shift the semester to a fully remote learning environment once again.

We are fully prepared to support our international students living on-campus and will follow the precedent set in spring 2020. Penn State will allow international students to maintain their “home away from home”. Those who wish to remain on campus will be accommodated and critical services such as dining will remain in place. Additionally, students will be allowed to maintain their accommodations over the winter break as well. However, a modest fee is required to stay on campus between semesters.







Student Health Insurance

If I am not studying in the U.S., do I need to show proof of health insurance or continue on the Penn State student health insurance plan (SHIP)?

The charge for the Penn State SHIP for international students (J and F visa holders) will show up on LionPATH after the fall tuition calculation runs at the end of June.  If as an international student you are not going to be inside the U.S. for fall 2020, the premium for the Penn State SHIP will not show up on your LionPATH account.

For international students that are in the U.S., health insurance is a requirement and must be maintained for the academic year (8/13/2020-8/12/2021).  To not carry health insurance is a Code of Conduct violation and will be treated as such.





Immigration-Related Resources

Office of Global Programs, Penn State International Students- DISSA: 814-865-6348, Option 2

Students can complete Submit a Question in 

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia: Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Penn State Law:


The information contained in this FAQ is provided for educational purposes only and not as part of an attorney-client relationship. It is not a substitute for expert legal advice.

Immigration and visa resources provided in partnership with: