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 – UPDATED FOR FALL 2020

Beginning, Monday, August 17 UA International Student & Scholar Services will resume on-campus operations.

NEW PUBLIC HOURS: Monday – Friday, 9 am – 12 noon and 1 – 3 pm CST (by appointment only).

APPOINTMENTS REQUIRED FOR IN-PERSON MEETINGS
During this time, UA International Student & Scholar Services will be open for appointments only.

To make an appointment, please email international@ua.edu or call 205-348-5402.

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

Advising Via Zoom – Monday – Friday, 11 am – 4:45 pm
General advising hours are Monday through Friday, 11:00 am – 4:45 pm CST via Zoom.

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.

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.

I-20s and DS-2019s will be sent as an electronic document per guidance from the Department of Homeland Security Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and Department of State.

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

For official documents for which you need the original, physical document, such as OPT EAD Cards, ISSS will need to arrange shipment to you, following the steps outlined on our Document Shipping Page.

 

 

REOPENING PLAN & FALL SEMESTER 2020

UA will resume on-campus instruction for the Fall 2020 Semester, which begins on August 19, 2020.

The University of Alabama and the UA System announced their clear plans to resume in-person study for the Fall Semester 2020.

On June 10, 2020, the UA System released its Comprehensive Health and Safety Plan for all university campuses. The plan, which was approved by the Board of Trustees, provides an overview of phased returns at the three campuses and includes details on health protocols, featuring the Stay Safe Together Platform with a Healthcheck assessment tool, an exposure notification app and event passport. The full report is available on the System website.

On June 15, 2020, The University of Alabama announced its campus-specific plans to return on https://healthinfo.ua.edu/returnplan/.  You can also access the UA Return Plan as a digital guide.

At this time, there is no anticipation of any change to UA’s plans for on-campus instruction this Fall 2020, but under the July 24 guidance, if UA were to return to 100% remote learning at any point in the Fall 2020 semester in response to COVID-19, all active F-1 and J-1 students would remain in valid immigration status and be able to remain in the U.S.

ACADEMIC QUESTIONS
All students should refer to the UA Student FAQ Page for more information.

 

 

STUDENT VISA STATUS – FALL 2020 GUIDANCE UPDATED JULY 24

International Student & Scholar Services has received guidance from the Department of Homeland Security (updated July 24, 2020) and separately from the Department of State that F-1 and J-1 students’ visa status will not be affected by UA’s Fall 2020 plans to offer a mixture of in-person, hybrid, and online courses.

Please note that F-1 and J-1 students must continue to maintain full-time enrollment (generally, 12 credit hours for undergraduate students and 9 credit hours for graduate students) during the Fall Semester to maintain visa status.

Exceptions to the full-time enrollment requirement are still allowed for students with authorized reduced course loads, those who are in the final semester of study, and graduate students who are in their dissertation or thesis research phase of study.

FOR NEW STUDENTS (those with new initial I-20s and DS-2019s), you must enroll in at least one on-campus class as an in-person or hybrid course to be eligible for an F-1 or J-1 visa or to enter the United States in F-1 or J-1 status. Those on initial I-20s and DS-2019s cannot enroll fully online in Fall 2020.

FOR CONTINUING STUDENTS (those who are continuing studies on active I-20s and DS-2019s), this means that any combination of enrollment of in-person, hybrid, and online courses (even 100% online) will satisfy the full-time enrollment requirements for F-1 and J-1 status.

Remember that this change in instructional method allowance is temporary, and the suspension of rules will change back to standard enrollment regulations as soon as the COVID-19 Emergency ends.

At this time, there is no anticipation of any change to UA’s plans for on-campus instruction this Fall 2020, but under the July 24 guidance, if UA were to return to 100% remote learning at any point in the Fall 2020 semester in response to COVID-19, all active F-1 and J-1 students would remain in valid immigration status and be able to remain in the U.S.

SPECIAL NOTE FOR J-1 STUDENTS: Per the U.S. State Department, “The purpose of the Exchange Visitor Program is to facilitate in-person exchanges.” Continuing and initial J-1 students are encouraged to enroll in as many on-campus courses offered in an in-person or hybrid format as possible to satisfy the full-time requirements.

FOR STUDENTS RETURNING FROM ABROAD, the notice here suspends the 5-month rule for absences from the United States.  So, for those students who are returning to the U.S. and have been outside of the U.S. since Spring Semester 2020, your I-20/DS-2019 and F-1/J-1 student status are valid for return.  Please refer to the RETURNING TO THE UNITED STATES section of this page for more information regarding what documents to carry with you.

Please be aware that travel 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.

 

Enrolling Full-time Online From Your Home Country for Fall 2020

FOR NEW STUDENTS (those with new initial I-20s and DS-2019s), you may begin your degree program by enrolling in online courses for the Fall 2020 semester from your home country and arrive in-person for the Spring 2021 semester, but UA International Student and Scholar Services will have to change your F-1 I-20 or J-1 DS-2019 start dates. If you choose to enroll online for the Fall 2020 semester, you must contact Shardá Smith with International Student and Scholar Services at sharda.smith@ua.edu in order to update your F-1 I-20 or J-1 DS-2019 immigration documents.

FOR CONTINUING STUDENTS (those who are continuing studies on active I-20s and DS-2019s), if you will stay in your home country, it will be possible to maintain your F-1 or J-1 visa status while studying 100% online as long as you remain enrolled full-time.

For F-1 and J-1 students who will remain abroad and study online, we must update our documents to notate that you will be out-of-country. Contact International Student and Scholar Services at international@ua.edu in order to update your F-1 I-20 or J-1 DS-2019 immigration documents.

Please note that F-1 and J-1 students must continue to maintain full-time enrollment (generally, 12 credit hours for undergraduate students and 9 credit hours for graduate students) during the Fall 2020 semester to maintain visa status.

Also, please note that availability of online courses may be limited. The University of Alabama has committed to resuming on-campus instruction, and many classes are offered as in-person classes or in a hybrid format which requires an in-person component. Any questions regarding your courses available online must be directed to your Academic Advisor or Faculty.

If you are on a scholarship, assistantship, or fellowship, please contact your sponsor regarding tuition coverage for online studies from your home country. Any offers of financial support from The University of Alabama for Graduate Students on assistantship, fellowship, or scholarship do not apply to classes taken online while outside of the U.S.

Remember that this change in instructional method allowance is temporary, and the suspension of rules will change back to standard enrollment regulations as soon as the COVID-19 Emergency ends and UA resumes full normal operations.

Finally, the notice here suspends the 5-month rule for absences.  So, for those students who are unable to return to the U.S. or choose to remain in their home country during the Fall Semester, 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 as long as you remain in a full-time status as a student. You will be able to return to the U.S. on your F-1 I-20 or J-1 DS-2019 in Spring 2021.

INSURANCE WAIVER FOR FALL 2020 OUT-OF-COUNTRY STUDENTS
If you are enrolled in UA insurance for the Fall 2020 semester but will remain out-of-country for the semester, it is possible to waive out of the UA insurance policy for Fall 2020.

To be eligible for the waiver, you must submit an Out-of-Country Waiver Form with evidence that you are not inside the United States and agree that you:

  1. will not return to the United States prior to January 1, 2021,
  2. will not be eligible for health insurance coverage through UA’s Insurance Plan until January 1, 2021, and
  3. will be responsible for any and all personal medical expenses incurred between August 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

Deferring Admission/Taking a Leave of Absence For Fall 2020 – Remaining In Your Home Country

FOR NEW STUDENTS (those with new initial I-20s and DS-2019s), you may defer your admission and student documents to the Spring 2021 semester.  If you choose to defer admissions to the Spring 2021 semester, you must contact Admissions (Undergraduate Students – Shelley Moss at shelley.moss@ua.edu ; Graduate Students – Amanda Maltbie at aemaltbie@ua.edu). 

FOR CONTINUING STUDENTS (those who are continuing studies on active I-20s and DS-2019s), if you would like to take a leave of absence for the Fall 2020 semester or if you will not meet the full time enrollment requirements for online study from abroad, please do the following:

  1. Submit a Leave of Absence Form to international@ua.edu by Wednesday, August 26.  After August 26, ISSS will end your SEVIS Record and I-20 for an Authorized Withdrawal.
  2. To return to UA in January 2021, submit the following to international@ua.edu:
    1. I-20 Request Form
    2. Proof of Funding
    3. Scan of Passport/Visa
  3. Once you have received your new I-20 with a January 2021 start date, you will then be able to make plans to return to UA.
    1. You will have to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee again since you will receive a new SEVIS I-20 with a new SEVIS ID.
    2. Current Department of State and Homeland Security guidance, states that if your F-1 student visa stamp in your passport has not been cancelled or has not expired, you may use it to enter the U.S. on a new SEVIS I-20.
    3. Since students returning from a leave of absence enter the U.S. on a new initial I-20, they are required to complete another full academic year in F-1 status in order to be eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT). If you plan to apply for practical training, you should be enrolled as a full-time student for at least 2 semesters prior to your anticipated CPT/OPT start date.

 

 

 

RETURNING TO THE UNITED STATES

If you departed 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.

Also, we suggest you carry the following additional documentation with you:

  1.  the UA ISSS confirmation letter regarding UA Fall 2020 Plans,
  2.  a copy of your Fall 2020 schedule or Enrollment Verification.

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.

I-20s and DS-2019s will be sent as an electronic document per guidance from the Department of Homeland Security Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and Department of State.

ENTRY BANS AND NATIONAL INTEREST EXCEPTION WAIVERS FOR SCHENGEN ZONE, U.K., AND IRELAND

At this time, it is unknown what the status of current travel bans and existing Entry Bans will be in late July /August and beyond.  As originally issued some bans were temporary or had defined end dates, however they may be extended and the situation is constantly changing.

At the moment, foreign nationals, other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in or transited through ChinaIranAustria, 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).

On July 16, the State Department announced National Interest Exceptions for certain travelers from Schengen Area of Europe, U.K., and Ireland, which states:

“Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual national interest exception to travel. Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for a national interest exception to travel.

Business travelers, investors, academics, J-1 students, and treaty traders who have a valid visa or ESTA authorization that was issued prior to PP 9993 or 9996’s effective date or who are seeking to apply for a visa, and believe they may qualify for a national interest exception should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling. If a national interest exception is approved, they may travel on either a valid visa or ESTA authorization, as appropriate.”

The National Interest Exception waivers will be available for certain business travelers, investors, treaty traders, academics, and students under Presidential Proclamation 9993 (European Schengen Area) and Presidential Proclamation 9996 (United Kingdom and Ireland).

We have not received any notification of similar waivers for travel from China (Proclamation 9984), Iran (Proclamation 9992), and Brazil (Proclamation 10041).

U.S. Customs and Border Protection who control entry to the United States have separately recognized the National Interest Exception in this posting via the Carrier Liaison Program.

F-1 visa applicants, J-1 students and scholars, and academics seeking a National Interest Exception exemption to the Entry Ban, should contact the U.S. Embassy in your country.

As proof of UA’s plan to offer on-campus instruction, please print this confirmation letter to submit to the Embassy and/or to carry with you to present to Customs and Border Protection at the Port of Entry.

Please also make sure to print the Department of State page and this posting from CBP to take with you in your carry-on bag to board your flight as well as to the Port of Entry. Information is sometimes slow to be disseminated amongst government agencies and airlines so having this printed page may aid you if questioned about your eligibility to enter the U.S.

Additionally, there is information that those entering the U.S. under the National Interest Exceptions are required to use one of 15 specifically designated airports. Please ensure that your Port of Entry to the U.S. is one of these airports.  We also recommend you check with your air carrier to try to confirm that you are in fact admissible to the U.S. under this exception.

Prior to travel, 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.

Also, please be aware that transit through other countries 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.

PROTECTING YOURSELF DURING TRAVEL

The CDC has guidance on ways to protect yourself via flight and when using public transit, rideshares, and taxis.

Obviously, it is necessary to get from the airport to your home here in Tuscaloosa, and in that case, follow the CDC transportation guidance for the connecting transportation from the airport to Tuscaloosa.

 

 

 

SELF-MONITORING AND TESTING UPON RETURN

NEW CDC GUIDANCE – NO MANDATORY 14-DAY SELF-ISOLATION UPON ARRIVAL TO THE U.S.

Following updated CDC Guidance regarding travel that was announced on August 5, students, faculty, staff, and scholars arriving to the United States from international travel are no longer required to self-isolate/quarantine for 14-days after arrival to the U.S.

Everyone who arrives from all types of travel — international and domestic — must follow CDC guidance:

  1. When around others, stay at least 6 feet(about 2 arms’ length) from other people who are not from your household. It is important to do this everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.
  2. Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when you are outside of your home.
  3. Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
  4. Watch your health – Look for symptoms of COVID-19.

IN ADDITION FOR INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS: The CDC guidance states that everyone who arrives from any of the countries listed here as high risk (Level 3), must for 14 days do the following in addition to the guidance above:

  1. Stay home as much as possible.
  2. Avoid being around people at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  3. Consider getting tested for COVID-19. (NOTE: UA requires a negative test of all students, faculty, and staff before entry to campus—see below.)

Anyone who has engaged in high risk activities must also follow all of the guidance above.

Students with concerning symptoms should call the Student Health Clinic prior to visiting at (205) 348-3854 or (205) 348-0386.

Employees with concerning symptoms, please call the University Medical Center at (205) 348-4696 or (205) 348-1770  before visiting.

 

TEST + TRAIN + CHECK = WELCOME BACK!
All students, scholars, and employees will need to do the following to be allowed on-campus:

  1. get tested following the UA Protocols (Student Testing; Employee/Scholar Testing)
  2. complete a training module, and
  3. check symptoms regularly through UA’s HealthCheck.

 

CDC Guidance
 

CDC Guidance

ON-CAMPUS HOUSING

UA Housing & Residential Communities are working on changes and enhancements in the residence halls to promote the health and safety of our residents. UA Housing & Residential Communities are also considering necessary changes to the typical Move-In schedule and processes in order to best protect the safety of our students, families, and staff.

For students who will live on-campus, please check Move-In pages regularly for updates.

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 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, following CDC guidance on using public transit, rideshares, and taxis.

 

 

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 Fall 2020 classes will be covered under the UA Sponsored UnitedHealthcare Policy which covers Fall 2020 (August 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020), unless the student processes a waiver.

UnitedHealthcare has posted this on their page: https://www.uhcsr.com/news-main

“During the national public health emergency period, UnitedHealthcare will cover medically necessary COVID-19 testing at no cost share when ordered by a physician or appropriately licensed health care professional for purposes of diagnosis or treatment of an individual member.”

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.

Students who are 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 request and receive a waiver due to external coverage will need to direct insurance questions to their independent insurer.

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.

INSURANCE WAIVER FOR FALL 2020 OUT-OF-COUNTRY STUDENTS
If you are enrolled in UA insurance for the Fall 2020 semester but will remain out-of-country for the semester, it is possible to waive out of the UA insurance policy for Fall 2020.

To be eligible for the waiver, you must submit an Out-of-Country Waiver Form with evidence that you are not inside the United States and agree that you:

  1. will not return to the United States prior to January 1, 2021,
  2. will not be eligible for health insurance coverage through UA’s Insurance Plan until January 1, 2021, and
  3. will be responsible for any and all personal medical expenses incurred between August 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

 

ON-CAMPUS EMPLOYMENT QUESTIONS

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 Commencement Ceremonies, please refer to the UA Student FAQ Page and UA Commencement page.

Students who will complete studies in Summer or Fall 2020 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.  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 & 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.

 

 

ROUTINE VISA PROCESSING SERVICES RESUMING – UPDATED JULY 14

On July 14, The Department of State announced that Routine Visa Services would resume in a phased plan.

“The resumption of routine visa services will occur on a post-by-post basis, in coordination with the Department’s Diplomacy Strong framework for safely returning our workforce to Department facilities.  U.S. Embassies and Consulates have continued to provide emergency and mission-critical visa services since March and will continue to do so as they are able.  As post-specific conditions improve, our missions will begin providing additional services, culminating eventually in a complete resumption of routine visa services.”

Some Embassies may ask for proof that The University of Alabama will offer in-person instruction.  Please print this confirmation letter to submit to the Embassy.

You will need to check your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate to find out if their local process for resumption of visa processing.  Contact information for embassies and consulates worldwide is available at usembassy.gov.

This reverses the March 22, 2020 announcement that the U.S. State Department suspended visa services.  

PLEASE NOTE: Temporary suspension of Immigrant Visas and Certain J, H, & L Visas are still in effect through December 31.

TEMPORARY SUSPENSION OF CONSULAR PROCESSING OF IMMIGRANT VISAS AND CERTAIN J, H, & L NON-IMMIGRANT VISAS   – THROUGH DECEMBER 31

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 beginning on April 24, 2020

On June 22, 2020, the U.S. President signed a second proclamation extending the suspension of Immigrant Visa processing at U.S. Embassies and Consulates until December 31 as well as introducing suspension of the issuance of some Non-immigrant J, H, & L Visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.  The suspension of certain Non-immigrant J, H, & L Visas begins on June 24, 2020 and lasts until December 31, 2020.

IMMIGRANT AND NON-IMMIGRANT VISAS
Immigrant visas are for those coming to the United States permanently (e.g. Permanent Residents or Green Card Holders).  Non-immigrant visas are issued for temporary purpose such as visits, study, and work.

IMPACT ON IMMIGRANT VISAS
Specifically, the suspension of Consular Processing and of entry to the U.S. only applies to the following, very narrow list of Immigrants (Permanent Residency or Green Cards):

  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.

Furthermore, while the original proclamation and its extension proclamation 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.

IMPACT ON NON-IMMIGRANT J, H, AND L VISAS
The June 22 proclamation only applies to those applying for visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad for the following, very narrow list of Non-immigrant visas:

  1. Applicants for H-1B and H-2B visas (and their dependents) at U.S. Embassies and Consulates outside of the United States;
  2. applicants for J Visas (and their dependents) at U.S. Embassies and Consulates outside of the United States, only for the following J Exchange Visitor categories – intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work travel program; and
  3. applicants for L visas (and their dependents) at U.S. Embassies and Consulates outside of the United States.

NOTE: It is extremely important to stress that while the proclamation suspends the processing of the above J, H, and L non-immigrant visa applications abroad at U.S. Embassies and Consulates via Consular Processing, it does not prevent anyone from a change-of-status to or extension of J, H, or L Visa status inside the United States through USCIS.

For more information, please refer to this resource page.

IMPORTANT – WHO IS NOT IMPACTED?
In the context of The University of Alabama
, the suspension and limitations on Immigrant Visas and certain J, H, and L Visas above DOES NOT APPLY to:

  • any F-1 and J-1 Students, F-1 and J-1 Student Visa applicants, F-1 and J-1 Student Visa holders and their F-2 or J-2 dependents;
  • any J-1 Scholar, J-1 visa applicant and their J-2 Dependents who are sponsored by The University of Alabama under the following J Exchange Visitor Categories – Research Scholar, Professor, Short-term Scholar, Specialist, Student Intern, and Physician;
  • any current H-1B Employee or H-4 dependents currently in the United States;
  • any current H-1B Employee or H-4 dependents who hold valid visas;
  • any employee of The University of Alabama currently inside the United States for whom UA is sponsoring H-1B for a change-of-status or extension of status;
  • any dependent of an H-1B employee seeking a change-of-status to or extension of status H-4 status;
  • any employee of The University of Alabama for whom UA is sponsoring Permanent Residence via an Adjustment of Status through USCIS;
  • 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 3 (b) of the proclamation.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Even if someone is exempt from the June 22 Executive Order, they may still be subject to one of the country-specific COVID-19 Entry Ban proclamations unless specifically exempt from those as well.

 

 

COVID-19 ENTRY RESTRICTIONS AND 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.

According to the notices, during the effective dates of the restrictions: “… travel through the land ports of entry and ferry terminals along the [… United States-Canada and United States-Mexico borders] … shall be limited to “essential travel.”

Essential travel under these orders includes travel for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States; individuals traveling to attend educational institutions; and individuals traveling to work in the United States.

 

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 July 16, 2020 the State Department announced National Interest Exceptions for certain travelers from Schengen Area of Europe, U.K., and Ireland.
  • Students with valid F-1 visas do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual National Interest Exception to travel.
  • F-1 visa applicants, J-1 students and scholars, and academics seeking a National Interest Exception exemption to the Entry Ban, should contact the U.S. Embassy in your country.
  • As proof of UA’s plan to offer on-campus instruction, please print this confirmation letter to submit to the Embassy and/or to carry with you to present to Customs and Border Protection at the Port of Entry.
  • Please also make sure to print the Department of State page and this posting from CBP to take with you in your carry-on bag to board your flight as well as to the Port of Entry.
  • Additionally, there is information that those entering the U.S. under the National Interest Exceptions may be required to use one of 15 specifically designated airports. Please ensure that your Port of Entry to the U.S. is one of these airports.  We also recommend you check with your air carrier to try to confirm that you are in fact admissible to the U.S. under this exception.

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 July 16, 2020 the State Department announced National Interest Exceptions for certain travelers from Schengen Area of Europe, U.K., and Ireland.
  • Students with valid F-1 visas do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual National Interest Exception to travel.
  • F-1 visa applicants, J-1 students and scholars, and academics seeking a National Interest Exception exemption to the Entry Ban, should contact the U.S. Embassy in your country.
  • As proof of UA’s plan to offer on-campus instruction, please print this confirmation letter to submit to the Embassy and/or to carry with you to present to Customs and Border Protection at the Port of Entry.
  • Please also make sure to print the Department of State page and this posting from CBP to take with you in your carry-on bag to board your flight as well as to the Port of Entry.
  • Additionally, there is information that those entering the U.S. under the National Interest Exceptions are required to use one of 15 specifically designated airports. Please ensure that your Port of Entry to the U.S. is one of these airports.  We also recommend you check with your air carrier to try to confirm that you are in fact admissible to the U.S. under this exception.

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.