COVID-19 Fall 2021 Information

Fall 2021 Information and FAQs for International Students
Updated: August 16, 2021

We hope the answers to the following frequently asked questions (FAQs) will help as you plan for Fall. Please contact the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS) with any additional questions, and check this website regularly for updates.

Information for All Students

Q: What is Northwestern’s policy regarding the COVID-19 vaccination?

A: On May 12, 2021, Northwestern announced that a COVID-19 vaccination is required for all students for the 2021-22 academic year. You can read the full announcement here. Students, faculty, and staff must follow policies, protocols, and guidance designed to protect everyone’s health.

Q: Do I need to complete the COVID-19 Vaccination Disclosure Form?

A: Yes, all students must complete the COVID-19 Vaccination Disclosure Form to register for classes. The COVID-19 Vaccination Disclosure Form will allow you either to report your vaccination status or to request an exception to the vaccination requirement due to a personal health condition, religious beliefs, access issues, or other personal reasons. If you are having issues obtaining access to a FDA/WHO-approved vaccine in your home country, please submit an exception request in the “Access” category so you can register for classes and receive your vaccine upon arrival to campus. All students, regardless of vaccination status, are required to comply with our COVID-19 safety protocols.  Unvaccinated students are required to comply with heightened COVID-19 testing, masking, symptom monitoring, and quarantine/isolation protocols.

To access the “Student Vaccination Disclosure Form,” go to the COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement page and click on “Student Vaccination Disclosure Form.” You will need to login with your secure Northwestern NetID and username to access the form.

Q: Will I be required to quarantine upon arrival to Northwestern?

A: We are aware not all international students have the option to receive their vaccine before arrival and may have questions about what this means for when they arrive on campus. Currently, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does not require that international travelers undergo mandatory federal quarantine. Thus, Northwestern University also does not require a quarantine period upon arrival to campus, regardless of vaccination status. Students should plan to arrive on campus at their designated move-in time, and unvaccinated students should allow sufficient time for COVID-19 testing and/or vaccination. Unvaccinated students will be required to take a COVID-19 test on the day they arrive on campus. Students arriving on the weekend should test first thing Monday morning when the testing center opens. 

Q: Will I be required to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival to campus?

A: Due to the changing dynamics related to the delta variant of the virus, all students, regardless of vaccination status, are required to complete entry testing as they return to campus for the Fall. This applies to students who are in Evanston and Chicago over the summer for research or other purposes.

Rapid testing is available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Jacobs Center at 2001 Sheridan Road in Evanston or 345 E. Superior St. in Chicago. Students should complete their initial test on the same day as their arrival or on the next day the testing site is open if they arrive in the evening or on a weekend. Students must then complete a second test three to four days later.

Students should familiarize themselves with Northwestern’s current COVID-19 testing resources and complete their registration for Northwestern’s NAVICA testing application in advance to make testing on-campus easy.

Students receiving a temporary or permanent exception to the vaccination requirement are required to test at least twice weekly, continue masking in all shared indoor settings and complete the Symptom Tracker daily. These students will receive an email from the University with the conditions of their exception and the implications for non-compliance, which will involve sanctions up to and including suspension or expulsion.

After the initial arrival testing, Northwestern does not require ongoing testing at this time for vaccinated students, based on continued guidance from medical experts and the local public health department. However, we strongly encourage vaccinated students to take advantage of the free testing resources on campus as frequently as possible. Students voluntarily completing a test during each week of the Fall Term will be entered into an end-of-the-term drawing for a number of prizes, including travel vouchers, Northwestern memorabilia and gift certificates for local businesses.

We will closely monitor campus positivity rates and guidance from our medical partners and will adjust quickly if we determine that broader or increased COVID-19 surveillance testing is necessary.

Q: How can I sign up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

A: To schedule a vaccination, fill out this form, and the University’s vaccination team will contact you. Common questions and answers about Northwestern’s vaccination requirement can be found here.

Q: Is there a mask requirement at Northwestern University for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals?

A: Yes, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionIllinois Department of Public Health, and the Evanston and Chicago public health agencies, Northwestern requires masking in all indoor shared public spaces. This applies to all students, faculty, staff, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, except when:

  • In a private room, such as an office, apartment or residence hall room
  • Actively eating or drinking

Faculty who are fully vaccinated and who are teaching in-person may do so without a mask, provided they maintain appropriate distancing. 

Masking remains optional outdoors, though certain outdoor events may elect to require masking based on the number of attendees and location of the event.

Q: How can I obtain an I-20 or DS-2019 from Northwestern’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS)? 

A: For F-1 students, I-20s are issued as PDF documents and emailed to students with e-signatures. Students should print their I-20, sign it for their records, and use it as needed (e.g. for visa appointments, employment, and travel).

For J-1 students, some DS-2019s can be issued as PDF documents and emailed to students with e-signatures. Initial and visa renewal DS-2019s need to be original with an ink signature. J-1 students can request their documents by submitting a request via the OISS Portal.

Options for receiving original I-20 or DS-2019 with ink signatures:

  1. Request a shipment through eShipGlobal to obtain documents in the mail.
  2. Pick up the I-20/DS-2019 Form at the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS). As of July 2021, the OISS is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Beginning Sept. 7, 2021, the OISS hours of operation will be Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For the most up-to-date office hours, check the OISS home page.

Q: I need to apply for a U.S. visa to enter or return to the U.S. Am I able to get a visa at this time? 

A: In April 2021, some U.S. consulates resumed routine visa services on a limited basis based on local conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means international students may apply for and receive a visa stamp. You can apply for your immigration documents from OISS (I-20 or DS 2019) so that you will be ready to submit a visa application as soon as your consulate opens for service and you can secure an appointment. Applicants should check the website of the nearest embassy or consulate for the current operating status. The Visa Appointment Wait Times page from the U.S. Department of State allows you to search by city.

Q: How do I obtain a travel signature on my I-20 or DS-2019 to return to the U.S? 

A: New students do not need a travel signature to arrive in the U.S. Travel signatures for continuing F-1 and J-1 students are valid for one year. Travel signatures for F-1 students on Optional Practical Training (OPT) are valid for six months. 

All continuing F-1 and J-1 students can request a new travel signature on their I-20 or DS-2019 by submitting the “I-20 Reprint Request” or “DS-2019 Reprint Request” via the OISS Portal and selecting “travel” as the reason. Your OISS Advisor will email you a PDF of your document with a new travel signature. You should print that I-20 or DS-2019 and sign it before your travel. To re-enter the U.S., you will need to show Customs and Border Protection officials your printed I-20 or DS-2019 paper.

All J-1 students who will renew their J-1 visa while traveling abroad will need a DS-2019 with an ink signature from an OISS staff member. J-1 students can request shipment of the DS-2019 Form via eShipGlobal to receive it in the mail or pick up the DS-2019 Form during on-campus office hours. For the most up-to-date office hours, please check the OISS home page.

Information for New Students

Q: I am a new or transfer F-1 student currently outside of the U.S. I have received my initial or transfer-pending I-20 document and I am ready to come to the U.S. Are there any barriers to entry I should anticipate? 

A: You must get a visa stamp from a U.S. consulate abroad before entering the U.S. Although U.S. consular services were temporarily paused due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they are slowly resuming. Please check with your local consulate for guidance. Canadian citizens are exempt from the visa stamp requirement. 

As of Jan. 26, 2021, anyone traveling to the U.S. from abroad will be permitted to board an aircraft only if they (1) have received a negative COVID-19 test result within three calendar days prior to their departure or (2) can provide documentation of recovery from COVID-19 within the prior three months and clearance for travel by a health care provider or public health official. More specific information about this requirement can be found on the CDC website.

Travel to the United States from or through certain countries is currently prohibited due to COVID-19. The list of affected countries can be found on the CDC website. However, certain exemptions exist for students and academics covered by exchange visitor programs. Students subject to these geographic COVID-19 proclamations on suspension of entry due to their presence in certain countries, including India, China, Iran, Brazil, or South Africa, may qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE) only if their academic program begins Aug. 1, 2021, or later.

Students with valid F-1 visas intending to begin an academic program on Aug. 1, 2021, or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual National Interest Exception to travel, so this requirement works well for the mid-September fall quarter start date at Northwestern.

J-1 students will need to contact the U.S. consulate prior to travel to request an NIE unless stated on the visa stamp. Please note you may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the program start date on the I-20 or Form DS-2019.

For any immigration-related questions, please contact your OISS Advisor. Please work with your academic advisor to discuss all your options related to class registration.

If you do not plan to arrive in the U.S., you will need to defer your F-1 SEVIS record. You can submit the New Student Immigration Document Deferral request through the Office of International Student and Scholar Services using the OISS Portal. 

Q: I am a new international graduate student. When can I arrive in the U.S.? 

A: International graduate students in F-1 and J-1 status can arrive to the U.S. up to 30 days before the program start date listed on their I-20 or DS-2019 forms and up to 30 days after that date. Graduate students must check with their school or academic department before planning to arrive after their program start date to request approval for late arrival. Some programs may not be able to accommodate late starts. Students must arrive no later than 30 days after the program start date listed on their I-20 or DS-2019. If students cannot arrive until after the 30-day window, they should work with their academic advisors to discuss their options.

Should students decide to defer, they will need to submit a New Student Immigration Document Deferral request through the Office of International Student and Scholar Services using the OISS Portal

For students planning to live in on-campus housing, please verify your move-in date and other specifics with Residential Services before your arrival to the U.S.

Q: I am a new international undergraduate student. When can I move into my residence hall?
A:
Undergraduate students can move in to the residence halls on Sept. 11, 2021. Early move-in is Sept. 8 for students who prefer to be in the U.S. for class registration on Sept. 9-10, which will take place online. There is a $50 per day fee until students’ housing contracts begin, though international students on financial aid are exempt from this fee.

Q: I am a new international undergraduate student. How late can I arrive?

A: New international undergraduate students must arrive to campus by no later than Sept. 26, 2021. The last day to add fall classes is Sept. 27. You must register for and begin to attend classes by this date in order to maintain your immigration status.

Q: When is international student orientation?

A: International Student Orientation, for both graduate and undergraduate students, will be offered online in September. All international students will be invited to join an International Orientation Classroom in CANVAS by Aug. 31 to begin orientation by viewing important information about your arrival and start at Northwestern.

Graduate International Student Orientation will begin on Sept. 9.

Undergraduate International Student Orientation will begin on Sept. 11.

Q: If I cannot arrive in person for the fall quarter due to visa delays, what are my options?

A:  Undergraduate students may defer to Winter Quarter 2022 or Fall Quarter 2022. Contact the Office of Undergraduate Admissions about the deferral process.

Graduate students should contact their academic department to determine what options are available within their academic program.

To defer immigration documents, submit a written request via the OISS portal.   

Information for Current/Continuing Students

Q: I am a continuing F-1 or J-1 student but am currently outside of the U.S. I plan to return to campus for the Fall 2021 Term. Are there any barriers to entry I should anticipate? 

A: Before returning to the U.S., you must have a valid I-20 or DS-2019 with a travel signature and a valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp. (Canadians are exempt from the visa stamp requirement.) As of Jan. 26, 2021, anyone traveling to the U.S. from abroad will be permitted to board an aircraft only if they (1) have received a negative COVID-19 test result within three calendar days prior to their departure or (2) can provide documentation of recovery from COVID-19 within the prior three months and clearance for travel by a health care provider or public health official. More specific information about these requirements can be found on the CDC website.

Travel to the United States from or through certain countries is currently prohibited due to COVID-19. The list of affected countries can be found on the CDC website. However, certain exemptions exist for students and academics covered by exchange visitor programs. Students subject to these geographic COVID-19 proclamations on suspension of entry due to their presence in certain countries, including India, China, Iran, Brazil, or South Africa, may qualify for a National Interest Exception only if their academic program, including Optional Practical Training (OPT), begins Aug. 1, 2021, or later.

Students with valid F-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program, including Optional Practical Training (OPT), starting Aug. 1, 2021, or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual National Interest Exception to travel, so this requirement works well for the mid-September Fall quarter start date at Northwestern. J-1 students will need to contact the U.S. consulate prior to travel to request an NIE unless stated on the visa stamp. Please note you may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the program start date on the I-20 or Form DS-2019.

If you have any questions before travel, please contact your OISS Advisor. If you encounter trouble at the border, please contact us right away at 847-491-3456. 

Q: Will Northwestern offer in-person classes in Fall 2021? 

A: On June 25, 2021, Northwestern University announced that its courses and the vast majority of its services and activities would return to in-person status for the 2021-22 academic year. You can read that full announcement here. The decision to return to the classroom was informed by successful management during the height of the pandemic last year, very high vaccination rates among students, faculty, and staff, our commitment to residential model of education, and student, family and faculty feedback.

We understand some international students may not be able to come to the U.S. for in-person study due to visa delays and other complications related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Undergraduate students: The Office of Undergraduate Admissions recently sent a survey via email to all new international undergraduate students. The results of this survey will allow the University to assess the number of incoming undergraduate international students who foresee barriers to arriving to NU by Sept. 21 due to visa delays or regional travel restrictions. The University will be in touch in the coming weeks about options as we assess survey responses from you and your classmates. Students can reach out to their academic advisors for specific questions regarding class registration.

Graduate students: Decisions about the modality of courses are based on the learning outcomes. As a result, some graduate programs may offer remote or mixed-modality courses. Please contact your graduate program to learn if your program will offer remote or mixed modality courses in Fall 2021.

All continuing international students should register for the Fall Quarter/Semester with a focus on making academic progress. If federal guidance changes, Northwestern will endeavor to provide the appropriate support so that students remain in compliance.

Answers to additional questions about the Fall 2021 term can be found here.