International Student COVID-19 FAQs

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. We must be flexible and responsive as the coronavirus situation unfolds, but we know that this sometimes leaves you with questions that do not have easy answers.

As circumstances change in the coming days and weeks, we will continue to keep you informed. Please check back as this page will be updated as information is made available.

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

Remote Learning | Returning home/reentering the US | Mental Health/Support | Global Programs Resources | University Park Housing | Medical Support | Student Health Insurance | Finances

July 6, 2020, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announcement that it would no longer provide exemptions for international students taking online classes due to the pandemic during the fall 2020 semester

International Students and Remote Learning in Fall 2020:

What You Need To Know - July 7, 2020

Remote Learning

Can the timing of remote classes be changed to accommodate different time zones? While we understand that maintaining normal class times is challenging across time zones, keeping the standard class time is necessary. This ensures that time conflicts will not arise as schedules have already been set. You are encouraged to reach out to your professor to let them know that you are remote learning from a different time zone, and to see if any accommodations can be made.




Returning home/reentering the US
Will remote learning affect my visa status? No. DISSA has notified the Department of Homeland Security of alternate procedures for the delivery of classroom instruction. As long as nonimmigrant students participate in online or other alternate learning procedures, they will remain active in SEVIS. Therefore, as long as you remain enrolled full time or have approval from DISSA for a reduced course load and you are making normal progress in your academic program, DHS considers you to be maintaining status during this period. SEVP is allowing on a temporary basis (spring 2020) for schools to count online classes towards full time enrollment in excess of the regulatory limits.
Can I go back to my home country during remote instruction? From an immigration perspective, you may go back to your home country while Penn State delivers classroom instruction remotely. The Department of Homeland Security has provided guidance indicating students could go home during remote instruction in spring 2020 without negative consequences to their SEVIS record as long as students remain enrolled full time and maintain status by following regulations. Penn State has now announced that remote instruction will continue to the end of spring 2020. Read your Penn State email for updates. Other considerations include the closing of borders (U.S. and other countries) and quarantines that may affect travel, flight availability, and health considerations. Now that Penn State has made the decision to continue remote instruction to the end of the semester, you may determine what is best for your circumstances.
What if I cannot return in April to finish the semester? Now that Penn State has determined that remote instruction will continue to the end of spring 2020, there is no need to return to campus. Students should determine what is best for their situation based on family concerns, home country restrictions, travel restrictions and availability, and U.S. restrictions. Most of all everyone should determine what is best for their health and safety.
What if I do not complete spring 2020 semester, what will happen to my immigration status? If you do not complete spring 2020, DISSA will terminate your SEVIS record based on 'authorized early withdrawal' so that if you return in fall, DISSA can request a reactivation of your SEVIS record by the Department of Homeland Security. This will allow you to return under the same SEVIS record and not require that you restart your 'clock' for practical training if DHS approves the reactivation. DISSA cannot request a reactivation earlier than 60 days before the start of fall semester (August 24). You will have to contact DISSA with a copy of your flight itinerary, so DISSA can make the request in SEVIS. If approved (and it is assumed it will be for fall 2020 because of the special organizations), DISSA will notify you. If for any reason the request is denied, DISSA will notify you on how to request an I-20 for a new SEVIS record. See question below.
What if I don't return in fall 2020 semester but later such as in spring 2021? F regulations require that DISSA terminate the SEVIS record of anyone not enrolled in a particular semester. Therefore, DISSA would have to terminate your SEVIS record if you do not return for fall semester. You would have to request an I-20 FOR REINSTATEMENT OR CORRECTION BY TRAVEL in iStart to return. The consequence of a terminated SEVIS record is that when you return your 'clock' towards eligibility of practical training and other employment benefits will begin again; you would have to enroll full time for 2 semesters before becoming eligible for practical training. This would have a more significant impact if you are a junior or senior-level student.
If spring 2020 is my last semester, will I be able to return to the US and have opportunities for OPT? In general, you must be in the United States to apply for practical training including Optional Practical Training. Other issues such as entry restrictions or other travel restrictions may prevent re-entry. In addition, we do not know now what allowances the Department of Homeland Security might provide in May and June given the unprecedented events of this semester.
What happens if online instruction continues to the end of the semester? DISSA is required to notify the Department of Homeland Security of alternate procedures for the delivery of classroom instruction. As long as nonimmigrant students participate in online or other alternate learning procedures, they will remain active in SEVIS. SEVP is allowing on a temporary basis for schools to count online classes towards full time enrollment in excess of the regulatory limits.
I have a valid travel signature; do I need to do anything before I leave the country? A travel signature is only required for re-entry to the U.S. and not required for exiting the United States. As long as your re-entry as an F-1 or J-1 student is within one year of the signature, you should have no problems with re-entry unless there were other violations such as a 'driving under the influence' (DUI) charge or a SEVIS termination for another type of violation. Note: Any time DISSA terminates a SEVIS record, the student is notified by email.
My travel signature has expired, how can I get a new one with campus closed? A travel signature is only required for re-entry to the U.S. and not for exiting the United States. When you are ready to return, complete the REPLACE DOCUMENT eform indicating the date of your return so we can prioritize your request.
I am on F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT), and I'm worried about going to work. Current Department of Homeland Security guideline is as follows: SEVP encourages such students to consult with their employer to seek alternative ways to maintain employment, such as teleworking or other arrangements. SEVP recognizes that the COVID-19 crisis is fluid and rapidly changing. For that reason, SEVP is not requiring prior notice of procedural adaptations, leaving room for schools to comply with state or local health emergency declarations.




Mental Health/Support
To where can international students turn for mental health support? For mental health support, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at University Park is open for services. Students can receive services by calling CAPS at (814) 863-0395 to schedule a phone appointment to discuss their concerns and review treatment options. If students have immediate urgent concerns, they can contact CAPS Monday through Friday (8am – 5pm EST), the Penn State Crisis Line 24/7 at (877) 229-6400, or the 24/7 CrisisTextLine (Text “LIONS” to 741741). For Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Commonwealth Campuses students can look to the local campus office: Services and hours will vary by location.
What do I do if I am harassed for being an international student and get blamed for spreading the virus? Diseases such as coronavirus can impact people regardless of ethnicity. It is important for everyone to take prudent steps to contain the virus and avoid stereotyping individuals. Penn State University forbids and condemns any harassment and discrimination. Such behaviors may also violate federal, state and local law. All harassment or discrimination should be reported. Anyone may make an anonymous report of prohibited conduct by calling the Ethics and Compliance Hotline at 1-800-560-1637. Reports may also be filed online at . Students who prefer to can also, or instead, submit a report to an agency outside of Penn State such as the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Contact information for these agencies is available at the Affirmative Action Office website.




Global Programs Resources
Will Global Programs still be offering the tax advisory sessions? The tax advisory sessions are now going to be recorded as a Zoom session. The link to view the sessions will be shared as soon as it is available. Viewers with questions not answered by the recording will be able to contact a volunteer advisor via email with additional questions at
How often and from where can international students get updates? The Global Programs SEIL office will provide regular updates on the plans for housing, remote coursework, travel restrictions and other information as it becomes available. International students may contact the SEIL office when assistance is needed when interacting with other Penn State offices. The SEIL office number is 814-867-6101, or email Students with visa and immigration specific questions should contact the Directorate of International Student and Scholar Advising (DISSA) at 814-865-6348. DISSA is not open for walk-in advising.




University Park Housing
Can I stay in the dorm on campus? How do I make this request? Students who currently live on campus and signed up for housing during the Remote Learning period will be eligible to continue living on campus. The Housing Assignment Office sent an email to students’ Penn State Access Account on March 19 that included a link to a survey to request extended housing. Students who sign up for housing beyond April 3 may be relocated to a central housing area to maintain the safety and security of residents. Information about this process will be communicated to those who are approved to stay in University Housing.
What can I do to store my belongings if I lived on-campus and returned to my home country and now cannot return to the Penn State? The University is working on a plan to provide storage options for students who may not be able to return to campus to retrieve their belongings. Once these are in place, information will be emailed to students’ Penn State Access Account.
What should I do with my belongings if I live off-campus and am returning to my home country?

If you live off-campus and are returning to your country, you have two options of what to do with your belongings. The first option is if you have renewed your lease for the 2020-2021 school year and are able to leave your belongings in your apartment. It is recommended that you double-check with your apartment building to make sure you are able to leave your belongings.

The other options is for students who are not renewing a lease for the 2020-2021 school year. If you will not be returning to the U.S. before your lease ends, you will need to make sure your belongings are out of your apartment and are in a storage unit. State College has several storage facilities that are still open for students to rent storage units.

Will there be meals available for us remaining on campus? During the remote learning period, food services will be extremely limited. One dining commons will be open offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner for take-out only. Pollock Dining Commons will be open for meal periods for take-out option only. Market Pollock will also be available.
Can I receive mail/packages? The Commons Desk Operations are open with limited hours: 8am to 4pm Monday through Friday. The Pollock Commons Desk has extended hours until 10pm every day, and 1pm to 10pm Saturday and Sunday. You may pick up your mail/packages. The Commons Desk is not currently forwarding any mail/packages; once the semester has ended, any remaining items will then be forwarded.




Medical Support
What if my campus is closed will I still have access to medical support? University Health Services is open by appointment only for urgent care needs. Students may schedule through myUHS or call 814-863-0774. Any respiratory illnesses must be scheduled through a phone triage by calling 814-863-4463.




Student Health Insurance
Will my Penn State student health insurance plan (SHIP) cover me during this time? Yes, if you enroll in the Penn State student health insurance plan (SHIP), the coverage for Spring/Summer 2020 will continue through 2020. Students may inquire about their health insurance by calling Student Health Insurance at 814-865-7467 or by emailing
Will my Penn State SHIP cover me in my home country? No, the Penn State SHIP does not work for an international student in their home country as the expectation is that most international students have some type of medical coverage when they are at home.
Will my Penn State SHIP cover COVID-19 testing? Yes, this is now a benefit for all students under the Penn State SHIP regardless of if a student has symptoms or not. Students may contact United Healthcare Student Resources by calling 1-888-224-4810.




Now that you have switched to remote learning for the entire semester, will you be offering tuition refunds? We understand the concern over tuition and the financial strain that this pandemic is putting on so many. Even during this unprecedented national and global challenge, our outstanding faculty are meeting the course and program learning objectives for our students by continuing to deliver a world-class Penn State education. University staff and educators are working around the clock. The full effort of the University is focused on getting all students into the remote environment to preserve their credits and enable them to finish the semester, and to graduate on time, which is important financially to students and families.

Unfortunately, we believe the cost of fulfilling our educational commitment in a remote setting is likely higher, and there are no plans to issue tuition refunds. Lab experiments are being video streamed, technical, research and operational infrastructures needs are being met, training and technology solutions are being delivered on an unprecedented scale, and more. The University is delivering on our educational promise to our students and will continue to do so.

What is the amount students will be refunded for housing and meal plans? Students will be refunded for their prorated University room and board rates through the rest of the academic year. The full resources of the University are behind meeting student learning objectives and classes will continue remotely so students can complete their semesters successfully.
Are you offering housing refunds to students who live off campus in apartments or fraternities? The University will work with local authorities, landlords, and student leaders, where we can, to encourage strategies to minimize the impact on students. These are separate contracts and leases between landlords and students that the University cannot ultimately control.
Will there be meals available for us remaining on campus? During the remote learning period, food services will be extremely limited. One dining commons will be open offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner for take-out only. Pollock Dining Commons will be open for meal periods for take-out option only. Market Pollock will also be available.
What about individuals who depend on student wages income? We understand and share this concern. This is a complicated issue because of considerations like state and federal work-study regulations, which are being reviewed to address hourly employees that have federal or state work-study requirements. And some students who were employed at their campus location are now home. However, these students may be able work from home, and we are encouraging that to happen – and indeed it already is in some cases. Overall, our general intent is to treat student employees like we do other employees, and further guidance will be coming soon.