Coronavirus Information

This page is intended to provide current UA international students and scholars with timely information and resources regarding COVID-19.

ISSS OFFICE HOURS AND ADVISING
UA is operating under limited business operations, which includes essential staffing and remote work assignments beginning Monday, March 23.  The LBO plan has been extended, and when a decision to resume operations is made, it will be promptly communicated to the campus community.

During this time, UA International Student & Scholar Services will not be open to the public.  ISSS Staff will be working remotely from home.

Virtual Advising – Monday – Friday, 9 am – 4:45 pm
General office advising hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 am – 4:45 pm CST via Zoom: https://uasystem.zoom.us/my/uainternationalservices.

When seeking advising via Zoom, students and scholars will be connected with one of the UA ISSS Staff.  If there are multiple students and scholars in the queue, you will be placed directly into a waiting room.

Please note, virtual advising is meant for shorter inquiries, and in order to serve all students and scholars, we ask that advising be limited to 5 minutes.

Calls and Inquiries
At this time, ISSS staff access to office phones is limited, however, we are able to receive and access voicemails from our computers.

If you call the main office line at 205-348-5402, please leave a voice mail if you would like someone to respond to you.

We also strongly recommend that all inquiries be submitted to international@ua.edu.

Whether by voicemail or email, please be sure to include your name and CWID (if known) with your inquiry.

Specific Inquiries and Requests
For students and scholars who have specific requests for information, advisement, or virtual appointments, please direct your inquiries to UA ISSS Staff as follows:

 

 

DOCUMENT REQUESTS
International students and scholars should submit document requests with the appropriate form and supporting documents via email to international@ua.edu.

This includes requests for I-20 and DS-2019 replacementsTravel Signatures, Extensions, OPT, CPT, Academic Training, etc.

ISSS will not be able to provide documents in-office or in-person at this time.

If you are still in Tuscaloosa or elsewhere in the United States, ISSS can mail the documents to you via USPS First Class Mail.  Please make sure to indicate this and provide your mailing address when submitting your form requests to international@ua.edu.

If you require expedited shipping or are outside of the U.S., you will need to prepay for document shipping following the steps outlined on our Document Shipping Page.

 

 

SURVEY – LOCATION FOR REMAINDER OF THE SPRING SEMESTER
UA ISSS asks all international students to let us know where you will be for the rest of the semester.

Let us know if you plan to stay in Tuscaloosa, stay somewhere else in the U.S., or return home for the semester by completing our International Student Survey.

If for any reason your plan changes after completing the survey, please let us know by contacting international@ua.edu.

 

ACADEMIC QUESTIONS
All students should refer to the UA Student FAQ Page for information about how courses will be handled for Spring and Summer.

SPRING 2020 CLASSES
On March 18, 2020, UA announced its Spring Semester Completion Plan, shifting all courses to online and remote learning for the remainder of the Spring 2020 Semester.

Academic Calendar Updates:

  • Registration for Summer and Fall Semester Classes has moved to March 30, 2020
  • The deadline to change to Pass/Fail Grading has shifted to April 24, 2020
  • The deadline to drop classes with a “W” has shifted to April 24, 2020


SUMMER 2020 CLASSES
Based on an announcement from the UA System Offices on April 8, 2020, all summer courses with a class start date before June 22 will be taught in an online or remote format, which includes Interim, Summer I and Full Summer Term sessions.

UA remains hopeful of the possibility to return to on-site instruction for Summer 2 classes. However, until circumstances change, faculty have been advised to continue preparing for online/remote course options for the remainder of the summer, including courses with a class start date on or after June 22.

Any further changes in the status of summer instruction will be announced by the end of May in accordance with UA System Office policy.

 

 

ON-CAMPUS HOUSING
Students may not return to campus after Spring Break, per the Semester Completion Plan sent out on March 18, 2020.

Short-term hardships for international students who cannot depart campus are possible, but those students must complete this form from UA Housing.

Additional on-campus housing questions should be directed to housing@ua.edu.

 

 

TRANSPORTATION QUESTIONS
All Crimson Ride and 348-Ride operations are suspended while the University is operating under Limited Business Operations. Any decision to resume service will be communicated to the campus community. Please review the healthinfo.ua.edu page for further information.

Tuscaloosa’s Trolley Bus system is currently still running, but that may change at any time.  Please check the TTA Page and Tuscaloosa City COVID-19 page regarding updates and changes to public services.

Private transportation services such as Lyft, Uber, and taxi services are available.  Students and scholars should use these options only if absolutely necessary and take precautions to maintain social distancing as much as possible.

 

 

STUDENT HEALTH CENTER & IMMUNIZATION QUESTIONS
Currently, the Student Health Center and Pharmacy is open Monday – Thursday, 8 am – 5 pm; Friday 9 am – 5 pm.  Students should call 205-348-2778 prior to visiting the Student Health Center.

COVID-19 Screening
All students will be assessed for COVID-19 risks prior to a visit to the Student Health Center.  Students need to call 205-348-2778 (or the main line at 205-348-6262) prior to visiting the Student Health Center.  The SHC is not offering any COVID-19 testing, but is referring those that meet the risk criteria to DCH Hospital for COVID-19 testing.

Immunizations and Holds
Students requiring immunizations and TB testing to remove their holds can go to the SHC.  After an initial assessment for COVID 19 risks, students seeking immunizations and TB testing will be placed in a well waiting area to isolate them from those students that seeking treatments for illnesses.

For those who have left the country or are not in Tuscaloosa, you can still submit proof of immunization records and TB tests from your personal doctors online.  You would need to submit the documentation via the MyBama Portal using clear pictures or scans.  Please follow the information on https://shc.sa.ua.edu/forms/immunization-form/ .  The SHC will accept official records, but they must be English.

Those with Immunization questions should contact immunizations@ua.edu, but make sure to include your name and CWID in your communication.

 

 

MEDICAL INSURANCE QUESTIONS
Undergraduate and Graduate International Students enrolled in Spring 2020 classes should be covered under the UA Sponsored UnitedHealthcare Policy which covers Spring and Summer (January 1, 2020 – July 31, 2020), unless the student processed a waiver.

Students who were covered under separate insurance policies through their sponsoring government scholarship (e.g. Kuwait Cultural Office Scholarship and Saudi Arabian Cultural Missions Scholarship students) will need to direct insurance questions to their sponsors.

Students who requested and received a waiver due to external coverage will need to direct insurance questions to their independent insurer.

More information about the UA Sponsored UnitedHealthcare Policy can be found on the Student Health Center’s Sponsored Insurance Page.

Students are encouraged to access their insurance cards and plan details through the UnitedHealthcare Student Resources Portal: http://www.uhcsr.com/ua.

All questions regarding student insurance should be directed to the Student Health Insurance Office at 205-348-4086 or via email to shc@bama.ua.edu.

UA Employees, Faculty, and Staff should refer to their Medical Insurance policy regarding their coverages.

Unpaid Visiting Scholars who have independent insurance policies will need to direct insurance questions to their sponsors and to their independent insurance provider.

 

 

ON-CAMPUS EMPLOYMENT QUESTIONS
UA shifted to limited business operations beginning Monday, March 23, through Sunday, March 29.  On March 26, the LBO plan was extended, and when a decision to resume operations is made, it will be promptly communicated to the campus community.

UA sent further details regarding Guidelines for Research Activity at The University of Alabama during Limited Business Operations, which remain in effect through the duration of the LBO Plan.

Faculty, staff, scholars, and student employees should consult with their departments and direct supervisors with any questions regarding work assignments.

Employees should also refer to the Employee FAQ Page for updates.

 

 

GRADUATION QUESTIONS
For updated information regarding Spring 2020 Commencement Ceremonies, please refer to the UA Student FAQ Page and UA Commencement page.

Students who will complete studies this semester or in summer should review our information regarding the final term here.

F-1 students who wish to apply for OPT should refer to the OPT Employment section of our website.

J-1 students who wish to apply for Academic Training should refer to the J-1 Academic Training section of our website.

International Student & Scholar Services will still process OPT and Academic Training applications and are able to do so via email and distance.

Please note: Students applying for OPT or Academic Training must be inside the United States at the time of application.  Those considering departure from the U.S. for the term need to communicate with ISSS about their plans and seek advice.  The primary advising contact for OPT and AT questions is Ms. Trang Nguyen, trang.t.nguyen@ua.edu.

 

UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA ASSISTANCE
The UA Emergency Assistance program allows students the opportunity to access short term assistance in times of need. Potential assistance may be in the form of gift cards, meal allotments, referrals, and other kinds of financial assistance through the support and compassion of our UA community.

Additionally, students who are in severe crisis and need assistance are encouraged to reach out directly to International Student & Scholar Services at international@ua.edu.

 

FEDERAL AND STATE ASSISTANCE AND PUBLIC CHARGE IMPLICATIONS
In a rule, published on Aug. 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security introduced new guidance and rules on Public Charge cases.  The Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Rule was fully implemented, nationwide on February 24, 2020.

Broadly speaking, any federal, state, local or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance, food assistance, and government housing assistance would make a nonimmigrant a Public Charge, and international students and scholars are strongly advised to review the Public Charge rules and other resources prior to accepting or seeking any federal, state, local or tribal financial support.

COVID-19 EXCEPTIONS ON COVID-19 TREATMENT, CARES STIMULUS PAYMENTS, AND UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE
There are some exceptions to the Public Charge rules with regard to international student and scholar eligibility for assistance for health care, unemployment payments, and even funds from the CARES federal COVID-19 stimulus.

TESTING, TREATMENT, AND PREVENTIVE MEDICAL CARE
On the Public Charge Page, USCIS and DHS has made it clear that COVID-19 testing, treatment, and preventive care will not be considered a violation of the Public Charge Rules.

From USCIS: “To address the possibility that some aliens impacted by COVID-19 may be hesitant to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services, USCIS will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination, nor as related to the public benefit condition applicable to certain nonimmigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule…”

CARES ACT – COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments
Eligibility for CARES Act COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments from the IRS depends on a number of factors related to your tax status in the U.S.  Eligibility depends on whether or not an international student or scholar qualifies as a U.S. resident alien for tax purposes, has an SSN that is valid for employment, and meets the income requirements.

Please refer to the UA International Tax Office Page regarding eligibility.

NOTE: If you have received a stimulus payment in error, please immediately contact International Tax Specialist, Casey V. Jones atcvjones@fa.ua.edu.

The Congressional Research Service has published a Legal Sidebar on Recovery Rebates and Unemployment Compensation under the CARES Act: Immigration-Related Eligibility Criteria.  This document provides detailed guidance on eligibility and Public Charge considerations.  It is important that you review the Legal Sidebar publication from the Congressional Research Service along with the Public Charge rules and other resources to determine both eligibility and potential Public Charge considerations.

From the CRS Legal Sidebar Publication“An alien’s receipt of the recovery rebate or unemployment compensation is not to be factored into determinations made under the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) public charge rule about whether the alien is ineligible for LPR status due to likely future dependence on public benefits. That’s because neither type of benefit appears in the exclusive list of benefit types that count as “public benefits” under the rule. In the preamble to the rule, DHS explained that it considers unemployment compensation an “earned benefit” not appropriate for public charge consideration. DHS also explained its decision not to consider other types of tax credits under the rule, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit: “DHS is not including tax credits because many people with moderate incomes and high incomes are eligible for these tax credits, and the tax system is structured in such a way as to encourage taxpayers to claim and maximize all tax credits for which they are eligible.” That said, DHS could amend the rule in the future to add new types of benefits to the list of those considered for public charge purposes, but it seems unlikely to do so for unemployment benefits and tax credits given these recent statements. (On a related note, DHS has stated that “medical treatment or preventive services” related to COVID-19 “will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future Public Charge analysis.”) Also, in the past, when DHS has changed the public charge regulations to bring more benefit types under consideration, it has not made those changes retroactive.”

CARES ACT – Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF)
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act contains a section that allows for distribution of funds to higher education institutions through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). These funds are to be used by colleges and universities to provide aid directly to students who have experienced a disruption because of the coronavirus crisis.

Generally speaking, based on Department of Education (DOE) policy and guidance, international students on F-1 or J-1 student visas are not eligible for any payments from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).

 

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE
Immigration-related eligibility requirements for Unemployment Insurance under the CARES Act are less clear than the eligibility for CARES Act Stimulus Payment and Tax Credits, and it is possible that eligibility may be restricted only to those who are defined as a “Qualified Alien”.

The Congressional Research Service has published a Legal Sidebar on Recovery Rebates and Unemployment Compensation under the CARES Act: Immigration-Related Eligibility Criteria.  This document provides detailed guidance on eligibility and Public Charge considerations.

It is important that you review the Legal Sidebar publication from the Congressional Research Service along with the Public Charge rules and other resources to determine both eligibility and potential Public Charge considerations with regard to Unemployment Insurance.

 

 

STUDENT VISA STATUS QUESTIONS – IMPACT OF MOVING ONLINE
International Student & Scholar Services has received guidance from the Department of Homeland Security and separately from the Department of State that F-1 and J-1 students’ visa status will not be affected by the move of Spring and Summer 2020 classes to online and alternative delivery.

Remember that this change in instructional method allowance is for the Spring 2020 and Summer 2020 semesters at this time, and the suspension of rules assumes that continuing students will return to resume full-time, in-person study in August 2020 when fall classes on August 19, 2020.

Please note that F-1 and J-1 students must continue to maintain full-time enrollment despite the shift to online and alternative delivery.

 

FACULTY, STAFF, & SCHOLAR VISA STATUS QUESTIONS – IMPACT OF MOVING TO REMOTE WORK/ WORK FROM HOME
International Student & Scholar Services has investigated the move to remote work and work from home and has determined that this will not impact faculty, staff, and scholars who are on H-1B, TN, O-1, or J-1 status nor those working at UA on the basis of F-1 Optional Practical Training or J-1 Academic Training.

At this time, we do not believe that any amendments must be filed with USCIS for those on H-1B, TN, or O-1 status, nor that any new site of activity updates must be reported for those in J-1 or F-1 status.

 

 

DEPARTING THE U.S. TO COMPLETE SPRING & SUMMER SEMESTER STUDIES ONLINE
International Student & Scholar Services has also received guidance from the Department of Homeland Security and separately from the Department of State that F-1 and J-1 students’ visa status who wish to return to their home country to continue online studies may do so.

The notice here suspends the 5-month rule for absences.  So, UA ISSS will maintain your F-1 I-20 or J-1 DS-2019 while you are out-of-country, and your I-20/DS-2019 and F-1/J-1 student status is not in any jeopardy.

Remember that this change in instructional method allowance is only for the Spring and Summer 2020 semesters at this time, and the suspension of rules assumes that continuing students will return to resume full-time, in-person study in August 2020 when fall classes on August 19, 2020.

Again, please note that F-1 and J-1 students must continue to maintain full-time enrollment during the Spring Semester despite the shift to online and alternative delivery.

For those wishing to study in summer, enrollment in summer is only required for those who are either in their first semester (as a new initial student, transfer, or change-of-level) or in their final semester of study.  Otherwise, summer is considered a normal break in academic studies for undergraduate and graduate students, and there is no restriction on enrollment.  NOTE: ELI students must be full-time year round, please see the enrollment section for ELI students for summer enrollment requirements

Please be aware that travel abroad may be challenging at the moment.  Many other countries have introduced restrictions on transit and entry.  We recommend that you monitor conditions through your home country’s Embassy page and through resources such as the IATA Travel Page.

 

RETURNING TO UA IN FALL
If you depart the country, don’t forget that you will need the following to be able to return to the U.S. on F-1 or J-1 student visa status:

  1. a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019,
  2. a valid passport,
  3. a valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp.

If you need a travel signature, please submit a Travel Signature Request with the subject line “TRAVEL SIGNATURE REQUEST” via email to international@ua.edu.

We can mail this to you inside the U.S. via USPS if you are still in the United States.  If you need it expedited or if you have already departed the U.S. you will need to prepay for document shipping following the steps outlined on our Document Shipping Page.

At this time, it is unknown what the state of current travel bans and existing Entry Bans will be in late Summer or in the Fall Semester.  Some of these bans are temporary, but the situation is constantly changing.

So, if you do go back to your home country, it is vitally important that you monitor healthinfo.ua.edu for the most recent campus information about the situation, that you stay aware of CDC travel watches, alerts and warnings, and seek out additional CDC and State Department updates, and that you monitor our website for immigration-related travel updates.

 

VISA PROCESSING SERVICES SUSPENDED AT U.S. EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES
On March 22, 2020, the U.S. State Department suspended visa services.

Embassies and consulates cancelled all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. U.S. Embassies and Consulates will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

 

TEMPORARY SUSPENSION OF IMMIGRANT VISA CONSULAR PROCESSING
On April 22, 2020, the U.S. President signed a proclamation introducing a suspension on the issuance of Immigrant Visas (a.k.a. Permanent Residency or Green Card) at U.S. Embassies and Consulates through Consular Processing for a 60-day period beginning on April 24, 2020 and ending on June 23, 2020 (with the possibility of an extension)

Specifically, the suspension of Consular Processing and of entry to the U.S. only applies to the following, very narrow list of Immigrants:

  1. Applicants for Immigrant Visas (Permanent Residency or Green Cards) who are outside of the United States;
  2. Immigrant applicants who do not already have an approved, valid immigrant visa; and
  3. Immigrant applicants who do not have an official travel document, such as an advance parole document, that is valid during the period of the effective dates of the proclamation.

Remember, Immigrant visas are for those coming to the United States permanently (e.g. Permanent Residents or Green Card Holders).  Nonimmigrant visas are issued for temporary purpose such as visits, study, and work.

The suspension and limitation on entry DOES NOT APPLY to:

  • non-immigrant visa applicants and visa holders (e.g. F-1 Students, J-1 Students, J-1 Scholars, H-1B Workers, B-1/B-2 Visitors etc.);
  • any current lawful permanent resident (e.g. Permanent Residents or Green Card Holders) of the United States;
  • as well as a list of other exempted categories found Section 2 (b) of the proclamation.

Furthermore, while this order suspends the processing of Immigrant visa applications abroad via Consular Processing, it does not prevent pursuit of Permanent Residency via an Adjustment of Status through USCIS within the United States.

For more information, please refer to this resource page.

 

 

COVID-19 ENTRY BANS

Controls at Land Ports of Entry on Canadian and Mexican Borders
Two Federal Register notices published on March 24, 2020 announced the decision to temporarily allow entry to the United States through land ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders for “essential travel” only.  Extensions of the restrictions were published on April 22, 2020 and May 22, 2020.


Restrictions on Travel to the U.S. from China, Iran, and Europe

On January 31, 2020, the Secretary for Health and Human Services declared an emergency and the U.S. President signed an proclamation introducing a ban on the entry of certain foreign nationals who were physically present within China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. The restrictions went into effect on February 2, 2020.

On February 29, 2020, a second Presidential Proclamation was issued to suspend entry into the United States of certain foreign nationals who were physically present within Iran during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. The restrictions went into effect on March 2, 2020.

On March 11, 2020, a third Presidential Proclamation was issued to suspend entry into the United States of certain foreign nationals who were physically present within the Schengen Area (comprised 26 European states: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland) during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. This COVID-19 travel ban is effective starting 11:59 pm eastern standard time on March 13, 2020.

On March 14, 2020, a fourth Presidential Proclamation was issued to suspend entry into the United States of certain foreign nationals who were physically present within the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. This COVID-19 travel ban is effective starting 11:59 pm eastern standard time on March 16, 2020.

On May 24, 2020, a fifth Presidential Proclamation was issued to suspend entry into the United States of certain foreign nationals who were physically present within Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. This COVID-19 travel ban is effective starting 11:59 pm eastern standard time on March 28, 2020.

In general, the restrictions on travel to the U.S. from China, Iran, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil are as follows:

  • Foreign nationals, other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in or transited through China, Iran, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil within the last 14 days will be denied entry into the United States per a presidential proclamation under INA 212(f).

The following additional restrictions on travel to the U.S. from China are:

  • Any U.S. citizen, permanent resident or other individual who is not subject to the entry ban who has been in Hubei Province, China in the 14 days prior to their entry to the United States will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they have been provided proper medical care and health screening.
  • Any U.S. citizen, permanent resident or other individual who is not subject to the entry ban who has been anywhere else in mainland China in the 14 days prior to their entry to the United States will undergo “proactive entry health screening at a select number of ports of entry,” and up to 14 days of “monitored self-quarantine” to ensure they have not contracted the virus and do not pose a public health risk.

Please refer to this resource on Coronavirus Entry Restrictions.