FAQs for International Student and Scholars
Resources to Support our International Student & Scholar Community at Penn
Various offices across Penn have developed FAQs to respond to the questions and needs pertaining to the international student and scholar community. This FAQ document seeks to consolidate those resources and to direct inquiring parties to those who are in the best position to efficiently offer informed guidance.
*In the forthcoming weeks, this document will be updated to list questions most relevant to the international student and scholar community.
Immigration & Travel
For questions concerning immigration or visas, we encourage you to visit Penn’s International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) website (https://global.upenn.edu/isss). ISSS has dedicated webpages to answer questions specific for incoming international students and continuing international students. Questions include, but are not limited to:
For Incoming International Students
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected ISSS I-20/DS-2019 processing times?
ISSS continues to operate remotely and process immigration documents (I-20s/DS-2019s) for incoming students. However, the transition to and limitations of remote work have increased processing times to about 6 weeks. You can check the status of your application in iPenn. Once your application is processed, you will receive a confirmation email with your SEVIS ID, which you can use to make an interview appointment at your local consulate. The document will be shipped to you after you have submitted the shipping e-form online.
When should I apply for my I-20 or DS-2019?
As ISSS has temporarily transition to remote work in accordance with University policy, we encourage you to begin the process at your earliest opportunity. Due to the large volume of applications and inquiries at this time, we are unable to offer expedited processing.
Will I encounter delays or difficulties getting a visa appointment?
At this time, the U.S. Department of State has temporarily suspended visa services globally, there is very limited visa appointment availability. This will hopefully change as services resume but the overall impact is still uncertain. Please continue to check with your local embassy/consulate (https://www.usembassy.gov) for updates about its operating procedures.
Will I encounter difficulties getting to the US?
It is important to stay up-to-date on the list of countries whose citizens may face difficulties entering the United States; these restrictions are constantly changing as the situation develops. Please see the CDC's webpage on travelers prohibited from entry into the United States for the most current guidance. Please also see this page for a comprehensive list of travel restrictions around the world.
Before making any travel plans, you should confirm that neither their destination nor any transit countries have put in place restrictions that could affect your itinerary. In addition, check with your airline to ensure you have the right status to make a layover in other countries.
For students currently outside of the United States: If you are concerned about not being permitted to board your flight to the United States or being denied at the US Point of Entry, you may request a travel support letter from your academic department and/or from ISSS confirming that you are seeking entry into the country under the sponsorship of the University of Pennsylvania. Please note that this support letter does not guarantee that you will be permitted entry into the United States and is only meant to provide additional documentation of your status as an active Penn student.
To request a support letter from your department, please contact your academic advisor or your admissions office. Here is an example of a support letter from an academic department (pdf).
To request a travel support letter from ISSS, please log on to iPenn and select Student Services -> Immigration Status Verification Letter (for F-1/J-1 Students). You will be required to provide your anticipated return date and upload a copy of your flight itinerary. This is only necessary if you would like to have a DSO-signed letter.
What is the latest date I can arrive to start my program if I am delayed by visa issues and/or continuing travel restrictions?
Please consult with your academic school to determine the latest date you may arrive on campus to begin your program.
What if I cannot arrive in time to start my program?
ISSS will defer your form I-20 or DS-2019 start date to the following Spring or Fall semester as determined by your academic program and will reissue a new form I-20 or DS-2019. Your SEVIS ID will remain the same.
What if I decide to defer my program start and I have already applied for an I-20 or DS-2019?
If you decide to defer your program start, you must confirm the deferral with your admitting school. Starting in July 2020, admitting schools will communicate with ISSS of any students deferring. Please do not contact ISSS to defer your record.
Please note that if you are deferring until a later semester, your admitting school will need to reupload your admissions record to our iPenn system and you will need to apply for a new I-20 and provide updated financial documents for the deferred program start date. Your SEVIS ID will remain the same.
Will I have the option to take courses online from outside the US if I cannot arrive in time?
This might be possible but will be dependent on the policies of your academic school. Your I-20 or DS-2019 start date will still be deferred to the semester start date you will be able to arrive and start classes in person. ISSS will arrange to issue a new I-20 or DS-2019 accordingly. Your SEVIS ID will remain the same.
What if my program or Penn delays the start date of in-person classes?
ISSS will need to defer your start date to the next semester your program will resume in person courses and reissue a new form I-20 or DS-2019. Your SEVIS ID will remain the same.
If I am transferring my SEVIS record, may I travel abroad in between programs? What if I do or do not have a valid visa?
If you still have a valid F-1 visa, you may continue to use that visa with your new I-20 from Penn to return to the US. (J-1 students, please consult with ISSS to discuss further.) However, you still need to consider changing travel restrictions and your personal situation before deciding if travel is the best option. If you do not have a valid visa, you should consider not leaving the US, as the new visa process may prevent you from returning in time to start your program.
What if I am currently in another immigration status and wish to apply for a change of status to F-1 or J-1 and not travel to get a new visa to return?
We highly advise consulting an immigration attorney to review this option. Please see https://global.upenn.edu/isss/cos for more information.
For Continuing International Students
I am staying in the US. Is there anything I need to do to maintain my student status?
Depopulating campus and completing the semester with virtual classes is an important step Penn is taking to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. International students with special circumstances who applied and received University approval to remain in on-campus housing are permitted to stay on campus. For international students who live off campus, the University urges you to consider returning home but you are not required to do so. This is your personal decision.
I am currently outside of the United States and am concerned about not being permitted to board my flight to the United States or being denied at the US Point of Entry. What should I do?
To maintain your student status, you must simply maintain a full-time course load online. Courses can be taken on a pass/fail basis or for a letter grade.
How do I get a travel signature?
Please complete the travel signature request e-form in iPenn. ISSS staff will review the e-form and approve your request. A new I-20/DS-2019 for the purpose of travel will be generated. After your request is approved, you will need to complete the shipping request e-form in iPenn. ISSS staff will then sign the form, process it, and mail it to you in time for your return to the US. ISSS will cover shipping fees incurred by current, actively enrolled students between March 13-June 30, 2020 for I-20s and DS-2019s. Travel signatures are valid for one year from the signature date.
Will the five-month out-of-country rule impact my immigration status if I leave the US?
As long as you maintain a full course load online and make normal progress towards your degree, the five-month rule will not impact your immigration status.
Will I have trouble getting back into the US even if I have a valid immigration status?
It is crucial that you stay up-to-date on the list of countries whose citizens may face difficulties entering the United States; these restrictions are constantly changing as the situation develops. Please see the CDC's webpage on travelers prohibited from entry into the United States for the most current guidance.
To request a travel support letter from ISSS, please log on to iPenn and select Student Services -> Immigration Status Verification Letter (for F-1/J-1 Students). You will be required to provide your anticipated return date and upload a copy of your flight itinerary. This is only necessary if you would like to have a DSO signed letter.
How do I know if my home country has enacted travel restrictions/bans?
Please see this page for a comprehensive list of travel restrictions around the world. Before you make any travel plans, it is your responsibility to confirm that neither your destination nor any transit countries have put in place restrictions that could affect your itinerary.
How are US Embassy operating procedures being affected by the COVID-19 outbreak?
The US Department of State has temporarily suspended all routine visa services at all US Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will continue to provide urgent and emergency visa services. This should not affect current visa holders or prevent you from re-entering the US with a valid visa. However, please check with your local embassy/consulate (https://www.usembassy.gov) for updates about its operating procedures.
I am a current F-1/J-1 student. Does the Executive Order from April 22 affect my status?
The order does not impact those holding nonimmigrant visas for temporary entry (J-1, H1-B, F-1 etc.) or their ability to obtain a visa at a consulate abroad. It also does not prevent those already in the United States in any visa category from remaining here. ISSS will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates. See here for more information.
*Penn’s International Student and Scholar Services office also offers additional information on the following topics: online coursework, Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT), as well as their operating schedule and procedures.
For questions concerning academic issues, we encourage you to visit Penn Provost’s Education website (https://provost.upenn.edu/coronavirus-information-and-resources). In the forthcoming weeks, this section will be updated to list questions most relevant to the international student and scholar community.
For questions concerning student health, we encourage you to visit Penn’s Student Health Service website (https://shs.wellness.upenn.edu/). In the forthcoming weeks, this section will be updated to list questions most relevant to the international student and scholar community.
For questions concerning housing, we encourage you to visit Penn’s Residential Services website (https://www.upenn.edu/services/residential). In the forthcoming weeks, this section will be updated to list questions most relevant to the international student and scholar community.