COVID-19/Fall 2020 Information

Questions for All Students

Q: Since Northwestern’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services is working remotely, how can I obtain an I-20 or DS-2019? (Updated 7/27/20) 

A: All new students or students who requested an Extension, Change of Level, Curricular Practical Training, Reduced Course Load, or a travel signature can: 

  1. request a shipment through eShipGlobal
  1. wait to pick up the I-20/DS-2019 form when Northwestern’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS) reopens, or 
  1. request that their OISS advisor email an electronic version of the form (for I-20 only). 

Please note that only F-1 I-20s can be sent via email at this time. Recent guidance temporarily allows OISS to email you a hand-signed and scanned or electronically signed copy of your I-20 form.  J-1 DS 2019s are not able to be emailed at this time. 

OISS still recommends that you submit your I-20 with Optional Practical Training (OPT) recommendation with an original handwritten signature for any OPT application.  

 

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? (Updated 7/27/20) 

A: In March, all U.S. Consulates suspended routine visa services until further notice. Since then, consulates have been resuming routine visa services on a rolling basis based on local conditions. This means that some international students will still be able to apply for and receive a visa stamp while others will not. You can still apply for your immigration documents from OISS (I-20 or DS 2019) so that you will be ready to submit an application as soon as the consulates reopen for visa services. Please be in touch with the U.S. Consulate where you will make your visa application for additional information and updates on visa services resuming.  

  

Q: How do I obtain a travel signature on my I-20 or DS-2019 to return to the U.S? (Added 7/27/20) 

A: New students do not need a travel signature to arrive in the U.S. All continuing F1 students can email their OISS advisor for travel signatures. Travel signatures on I-20s will be issued electronically on an I-20 pdf. All J-1 students will need to request a new DS-2019 and request shipping via eShipGlobal. Travel signatures for continuing F-1 and J-1 students are valid for 1 year. Travel signatures for F-1 students on OPT are valid for 6 months. To obtain your travel signature, you can:  

  1. request an I-20 shipment through eShipGlobal
  1. wait to pick up the I-20 form when Northwestern’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS) reopens, or 
  1. request that their OISS advisor email an electronic version of the form.  

 

Questions for New Students

Q: I am a new or transfer F-1 student currently outside of the U.S., and I have received my initial or transfer-pending I-20 document and am ready to come to the U.S.  Are there any barriers to entry I should anticipate? (Updated 7/27/20) 

A: First, you must get a visa stamp from a U.S. consulate abroad before entering the U.S. Although U.S. consular services have been paused due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they are now slowly resuming. Please check with your local consulate or contact us for guidance. Canadian citizens are exempt from the visa stamp requirement. 

Second, travel to the United States from or through certain countries is currently prohibited. For a list of countries, please see this link: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/from-other-countries.html 

Third, as a new or transfer F-1 student coming from overseas you are required to enroll in at least one in-person or hybrid class for the Fall term. You may also satisfy the requirement of in-person learning through an independent study or individual research option If all of your Fall term courses are remote/online-only, you will need to remain outside of the U.S. to study remotely. You will also 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 (OISS) Portal. 

Finally, upon arrival on our campus, you will need to self-isolate for two weeks according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. 

 

Q: I’m a new international student who will be outside the U.S. for the Fall 2020 term. Since Northwestern will offer fully remote, hybrid, and face-to-face courses, are there any restrictions I should be aware of as I plan my course schedule? (Reviewed 7/27/20) 

A: New international students who will be outside of the U.S. for the Fall term are allowed to take a fully online/remote course load, but will need to defer their F-1 SEVIS record and I-20 form. Students can submit the New Student Immigration Document Deferral request through the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS) Portal to defer their immigration documents. 

 

Q: I am a new international student. When can I arrive to the U.S.? (Added 7/27/20) 

A: International students in F1 and J1 status can arrive in the U.S. up to 30 days prior to their program start date listed on their form I-20 or DS-2019, and up to 30 days after that date. Students should check with their academic department first before planning to arrive after their program start date. 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 the I-20. If students cannot arrive until after the 30-day window, they should choose to study remotely. In this case, students should submit a New Student Immigration Document Deferral request through the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS) Portal to defer their immigration documents. 

 

Questions for Current/Continuing Students Outside of the U.S.

Q: I am a returning F-1 student, but am currently outside of the U.S.  I plan to return to campus. Are there any barriers to entry I should anticipate? (Reviewed 7/27/20) 

A: Before returning to the U.S., you must have a valid I-20 with a travel signature and a valid F-1 visa stamp. Also, travel to the United States from or through certain countries is currently prohibited. For a list of countries, please see this link:  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/from-other-countries.html

In light of the US government’s decision to return to its March guidance regarding F-1 students, you should be permitted entry into the US, regardless of whether you are enrolled or plan to enroll in remote or in-person instruction classes.  If you have any questions before travel, please contact your OISS advisor. If you encounter trouble at the border, please contact us urgently at 847-491-3456. 

Finally, upon arrival on our campus, you will need to self-isolate for two weeks according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. 

 

Q: I am a returning international student who will be in the U.S. for the Fall 2020 term. Since Northwestern will offer fully remote, hybrid, and face-to-face courses, are there any restrictions I should be aware of as I plan my course schedule? (Updated 7/27/20) 

A: Returning international students who will be in the U.S. for the Fall term may register for any combination of online/remote, hybrid, or face-to-face courses while also remaining in the U.S. in valid F-1 status.  

 

Q: I am a student at Northwestern who left the U.S. in the spring or summer, but I am now worried that I will have trouble getting back to the U.S. if I am unable to return within five months. Is this true? (Reviewed 7/27/20) 

A: When you return to the United States—if it follows a five month absence or longer—U.S. Customs and Border Protection may question why you were out of the U.S. for so long. Northwestern's Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS) is aware of this possibility and will reach out to students with additional information and guidance on any steps they may need to take. In the interim, your SEVIS record will remain active even if you are not in the U.S. and are conducting your coursework remotely as long as you remain enrolled in a full course load of classes.  

 

Q: I am a continuing international student who will not be in the U.S. for the Fall 2020 term. Since Northwestern will offer fully remote, hybrid, and face-to-face courses, are there any restrictions I should be aware of as I plan my course schedule?  (Reviewed 7/27/20) 

A: Continuing students who will be outside of the U.S. in the fall are allowed to take a fully online/remote course load and maintain an Active F-1 record.