Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for International Students

This page is intended to provide incoming and current University of South Alabama international students with timely information, updates, and resources regarding immigration status as it relates to COVID-19.

The University of South Alabama has announced that it will reopen campus for the Fall 2020 semester. Course instruction will be offered in a combination of in-person, hybrid, web-enhanced, and online offerings.

The information on this page has been taken from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) FAQs, SEVP Clarifying FAQs, and the Department of State Exchange Visitor Program guidance and updates. This page will continue to be edited with the most update information as it becomes available. 

Note: Prior to making any travel arrangements to exit the U.S., please reach out to our staff for further guidance.

▼   I want to leave the United States.  What factors should I consider when making this decision?

The decision to stay or exit the U.S. is yours to make, but a few factors should be considered: personal health and well-being, current and potential future travel restrictions, academic commitments, visa validity, airline availability, etc. Please consult with your family, our staff, and refer to any U.S. travel restrictions on re-entry and/or advice from your home country about whether to travel home or remain in the U.S.

A word of caution: Situations, guidance, and rules change frequently and often without advanced notice. Exiting the U.S. may jeopardize your ability to return and resume your program in person.

▼   I'm a continuing student who left to continue my coursework outside the U.S.  Am I allowed to enter the U.S. at this time?

As of today, the travel restrictions into the U.S. for those from and visiting certain countries are still in effect. Please see our Travel Restrictions to the U.S. related to COVID-19 page for more information on which countries are on that list. Otherwise, you will need to check with the appropriate airlines to see what flights are available.

You will need a travel signature on your I-20/DS-2019 prior to re-entry to the U.S. Please look at your immigration document and make sure the travel signature is still valid (one year from previous travel signature). Please contact the Office of Immigration if you need a new travel signature.

If you require a visa renewal, you must wait until U.S. Embassies resume visa appointments to apply, get the new visa foil (sticker) and return. 

The Office of Immigration will communicate with all students, new and returning, with updated information regarding travel and visa issuance as it becomes available.

Please note: U.S. travel restrictions for certain countries override proclamations on entry eligibility for nonimmigrants. 

▼   I am a continuing student. Can I resume my studies in the fall?

Yes! As a continuing student (meaning you have an active F-1 SEVIS record from Spring 2020 or Summer 2020), you may take classes inside or outside the U.S. This can be in any combination of in-person, hybrid, web-enhanced, or online formats.

Students who choose to enroll in full-time hours (12 credit hours for undergraduates or 6 credit hours for graduates) for the Fall 2020 semester will continue to have their I-20/DS-2019 registered as "active" in SEVIS.

For students inside the U.S. who choose to enroll in part-time courses, your I-20/DS-2019 will be terminated and you will be expected to exit the U.S.

For students outside the U.S. who will enroll in part-time courses, your I-20 or DS-2019 will be terminated and reissued for a later semester of your choosing. 

Please note: This information is for the Fall 2020 semester only.

▼   I am a new student. Can I enroll in online classes from outside the U.S.?

Yes! We highly encourage you to enroll in online courses from your home country if you are unable to join us in person for the fall semester. By enrolling in classes online, you keep yourself on track to finish your degree program on time. 

There are no U.S. immigration regulations to maintain if you are outside the U.S. You're not in active F or J status while abroad. Therefore, you can enroll in part-time or full-time classes while you are outside the U.S.

Remember, your F or J status is only activated when you enter the U.S. on an unexpired F or J visa. If you choose to enroll online for the Fall 2020 semester, we will reissue your I-20 or DS-2019 for a later semester of your choosing.

▼   I am a new student. Can I enroll in all online classes inside the U.S.?

Unfortunately, no. Students in initial status may not enter the U.S. and enroll in strictly online classes. If you choose to enroll in only online classes, you must do so outside the U.S. 

Current F-1 transfer and change of education level students, who have remained in the U.S. between their former institution and the University of South Alabama, should contact the Office of Immigration for further information on enrollment limitations.

▼   Can I begin my classes online in my home country and enter the U.S. whenever I get my visa and/or the travel restriction for my country is lifted?
Unfortunately, no. The last day to drop/add courses is August 21. All F and J students must enter the U.S., report to campus, and enroll in full-time courses no later than this date. Also, new initial F-1 and J-1 students are prohibited from enrolling in a fully online courseload and be present in the U.S. in F or J status for the Fall 2020 semester.
▼   I'm a new international student still residing outside the U.S. Am I allowed to enter the U.S. to take courses during the Fall 2020 semester? 

Maybe. Here are a few qualifications to determine if you may apply for entry into the U.S.:

  • You have a valid I-20 or DS-2019
  • You have a valid F or J visa
  • Your country is not under a current travel restriction to the U.S.
  • You will not enroll in a fully online program
  • There are flights available to the U.S. from your current location
▼   Can my family/friends accompany me to the U.S. to make sure I am settled in and safe?

For those family members and friends who may be eligible for a visitor's visa or the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), please check the Travel Restrictions page of our website as well as the availability of visa appointments at U.S. Embassies abroad, prior to making travel arrangements. 

F-2 or J-2 dependents (spouse/child) may enter the U.S. to join their principal F-1 or J-1 student, provided they have a valid dependent I-20/DS-2019, valid visa, and are not prohibited by any travel restriction.

Everyone should familiarize themselves with the City of Mobile and State of Alabama COVID-19 updates, guidance, and any potential rules for the public.

▼   Am I required to self-isolate or quarantine once I arrive in Mobile or return to campus?

No. Neither domestic nor international students, are not required to self-isolate or quarantine upon arrival. However, there are important institutional guidelines that you should review prior to your first day on campus.

Everyone should familiarize themselves with the City of Mobile and State of Alabama COVID-19 updates, guidance, and any potential rules for the public.

▼   Can you email me an I-20/DS-2019?

F Students: Yes. SEVP has extended their guidance that P/DSOs may continue to email I-20s to the email address listed in SEVIS. 

J Students: Unfortunately, no. The Department of State has stated that we are not permitted to email a DS-2019.

▼   If I'm taking classes outside the U.S., am I required to enroll in a health insurance policy?

J-1 students: Yes. Even if you are taking classes outside the U.S. for the Fall 2020 semester, you are required to have the Department of State required health insurance coverage while your DS-2019 is active. 

F-1 students: No. If you see a charge on your student account for health insurance, please speak to Justine Burbank in the Office of International Admissions and Student Programs.

▼   What about the F-1 five-month rule? 

You can read more on the F-1 five-month rule here. This issue has been updated since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) mentioned it in their Frequently Asked Questions for SEVP Stakeholders about COVID-19 Last Updated: March 23, 20. 

SEVP will allow F students to temporarily count online classes toward a full course of study in excess of the limits stated in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v), even if they have left the United States and are taking the online classes elsewhere. This temporary provision is only in effect due to COVID-19 and only for schools that comply with the requirement to notify SEVP of any procedural changes within 10 business days.

If this guidance is extended, we will update this site.

▼   I am graduating in December 2020. How can I apply for post-graduation work authorization (OPT)?

If you are completing your studies in December 2020 and wish to apply for post-completion F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) to work in the U.S., please make plans to remain in the U.S. as you cannot apply for OPT from abroad at this time.


▼   Can I get a travel signature?

Currently, USA faculty and staff are working remotely from home and the main campus is closed. To maintain safe social distancing, we will not be able to meet you in person. If you need a travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019, don’t worry. You can simply reach out to our staff when you are ready to return to the U.S. They will send you instructions on how to have a new I-20 or DS-2019 signed for re-entry emailed to you. You do not need a travel signature if you are staying in the U.S.

▼   Do I need to update my address once I determine where I will be for the Fall 2020 semester? 

Yes! You must report any changes to your current address within 10 calendar days of moving, even if that means you'll be outside the Mobile area or U.S. Please report your address and contact information changes via email to our staff

▼   Is the Office of Immigration open? 

Yes! We continue normal business hours Monday through Friday from 8:00am - 5:00pm CST. You can contact the Office of Immigration by email, Zoom, or Skype (please email for Zoom and Skype appointments) for advising during these hours. Please let us know if you have any questions or need our support. We are here for you!  

Once classes resume, we encourage you to continue to make virtual advising appointments, if possible.