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International students Frequently asked questions about COVID-19

This page includes updates and FAQs relevant to future and current international students.

View the main COVID-19 frequently asked questions page

Update on Spring 2021

The College will continue offering the High-Flex model in Spring 2021 for our Day Program in Columbia, MO, with students having the ability to choose whether they will attend in person or virtually. Day classes will take place using the High-Flex model until the last day before Spring Break (Friday, March 26), after which students will move off campus and all classes will be held virtually. Residence halls will close Saturday, March 27 at 5 pm. 

Students at our CCG locations will also continue to have the flexibility to attend class in-seat or virtually but will again need to make that determination when they register for each class.

Please note: SEVP guidance for the Spring 2021 term will be the same as for Fall 2020. 

Fall 2020 

I have read about Columbia College’s Fall 2020 Academic Implementation Plan. What are the immigration implications?

According to the July 24 Guidance issued by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), new students will need to have at least one in-person class on campus. The guidance does not permit new F-1 students to enroll exclusively in remote courses. Continuing students with an Active F-1 Record may participate in courses remotely so long as they maintain a full course load as usual.

Learn more about the Fall 2020 Academic Implementation Plan for Columbia Campus.

View more information about the Fall 2020 Academic Implementation Plan for Columbia College Global Locations

Will my immigration status be jeopardized if the pandemic compels Columbia College to shift to an all-virtual platform unexpectedly?

No. According to the July 24 Guidance issued by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), international students who are already in the U.S. would retain their F-1 status so long as they maintain full-time enrollment. 

The U.S. State Department suspended nonimmigrant visa services in all countries. How will this affect me?

It depends. Students can stay in the U.S. with an expired visa so long as their passport and I-20 have not expired. If outside of the U.S., students will need a valid visa to enter the country (exception: Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter the U.S.). Due to U.S. consulate and embassy closures and limited staffing in some areas affected by COVID-19, it may be difficult to obtain a new visa. Students should continue to check their local U.S. embassy or consulate website to confirm operating status and find information about appointment rescheduling and/or emergency services.

I’m concerned about travel restrictions to the U.S. Where can I find the latest information?

As the current global situation evolves, we recommend students check the travel updates by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as well as resources from their own country’s governmental agencies when planning travel to the U.S. The International Center is carefully monitoring updates from the CDC, SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program), USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), and Department of State, and will communicate changes to students as we receive new information.

I am a NEW student. What options do I have if I am not able to return for the Fall 2020 semester?

For new international students who are unable to be physically present for in-person classes due to various reasons (travel constraints, health/safety, etc.), the International Center recommends deferring their form I-20 start date to Spring or Fall 2021. Contact for help with this process. Another option is to participate in classes remotely (students do not need F-1 status to take online classes), though international students should note that their I-20 start date will still be deferred to the semester start date they arrive and start classes in person. Contact for help with this process.

I am a CONTINUING student with an ACTIVE F-1 RECORD residing outside of the U.S. What options do I have if I am not able to return for the Fall 2020 semester?

International students who are unable to be physically present for in-person classes due to various reasons (travel constraints, health/safety, etc.) may be able to participate in fall classes remotely from their home country. As long as students enroll full-time, they will retain their F-1 status. Another option is to take a temporary leave of absence (in other words, “a break from studies”), with the intent to return to campus in Spring or Fall 2021. Before making a final decision, contact the International Center to discuss the immigration implications of a leave of absence. 

I am a prospective international student. How can I provide proof of English proficiency for admission review in light of global circumstances?

There are several ways applicants can provide proof of English proficiency for admission review. Testing centers (like TOEFL, IELTS, etc.) are offering alternative forms of testing for students, including in-home testing in some countries. One test in particular is a great option for applicants – Duolingo English Test. More information about this test option and all options for English proficiency can be found on our English Proficiency page.

What should I be mindful of when booking my travel to the U.S.?

We encourage students to get to know their airline’s waiver and refund policies as well as to purchase flight insurance that offers maximum flexibility should tickets need to be changed or canceled. For information about current travel restrictions related to the coronavirus outbreak, refer to the International Air Transport Association.

I am a residential student. Will international students be allowed to stay in on-campus housing after the planned transition to virtual learning? What happens if an announcement is made to close campus prior to that date due to a COVID-19 resurgence?

No. All students are being asked to move out of the residence halls on Saturday, November 21 by 5:00 pm – or within 48 hours if an announcement is made to move to virtual learning prior to that date – so there can be a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of campus before the Spring Semester begins. While we understand that this expectation creates a hardship, it is one of many steps campus leadership is taking to maximize the health and safety of the entire Columbia College community in the COVID-19 environment. Student Athletes should direct any questions or concerns regarding athletic participation during this time to Athletics.

Residence hall move in for Spring 2021 begins at noon on Friday, January 8, 2021. If students can return to their home countries for this 7-week period between semesters, we encourage them to do so. Students whose circumstances prevent them from returning home are responsible for securing off-campus housing at their own expense. View resources for securing off-campus housing.

We want to make expectations clear. This coming semester will not be a traditional fall semester on campus in any respect. This past spring serves as a reminder that students should be prepared to vacate campus at any time in the event that we can no longer safely support in-person instruction. We ask that you be flexible and adaptable. It is essential that you have a plan in place for quickly relocating off-campus at any time.

I am a new student for the Fall 2020 semester. What will orientation look like?

In light of the global pandemic, we are working on a revised orientation plan. Most sessions will be virtual and available to you by mid August. International Student Welcome is tentatively planned for the afternoon of Friday, August 28. As campus leadership continues to define suitable guidelines for transitioning campus back to face-to-face activities, we will adapt orientation plans accordingly.

I am currently in the U.S. (with a valid visa) but was planning to travel outside of the U.S. before the fall semester start. Should I cancel my trip?

From an immigration perspective, international travel is very unpredictable at the moment. There are travel restrictions for certain countries, and we do not know how long they will last and which additional countries may be added to the restrictions already in place. With the growing number of cases now in the U.S., restrictions could be implemented in the U.S. without much notice. If you decide to travel, be prepared, understand the risks, and know that you might not be able to return to the U.S. for an unknown period of time. It is important to note, too, that you will be expected to complete a 14-day quarantine after arriving in the U.S. and before being allowed back on campus.

For travel inquiries and up-to-date information on travel restrictions bans, please visit the US Department of State's COVID-19 Country Specific Information page and CDC's country-specific health information and travel recommendations by country.

I am returning from abroad for the fall semester. Do I need to self-quarantine? When can I move into the residence halls?

Yes; students returning from abroad are expected to self-quarantine. Columbia College defers to the guidance from the government and best practices across the country. Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, travelers are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival in the U.S. from abroad.

Beginning two weeks prior to their assigned arrival day, students must complete a 14-day quarantine in an off-campus location. Once the 14-day quarantine period is complete and approval has been granted, students may travel to campus. Please note that students are responsible for covering off-campus housing costs during this quarantine period.

In the event a student has COVID-19 symptoms, known exposure to COVID-19, and/or a positive COVID-19 test result, they will be relocated to other housing as appropriate while being monitored by trained staff who will initiate contact tracing.

Key dates

Thursday, August 13, 2020*

  • Students are expected to arrive in the U.S. and self-quarantine for 14 days.

Friday, August 28, 2020

  • Students may travel to campus as approved.
  • Residence hall move-in begins at 9:00 am.
  • International Student Welcome tentatively begins at 1:00 pm.

*Students whose circumstances might prevent them from arriving on/before August 13 will be subject to the same quarantine guidelines and expectations.

View instructions and resources for quarantine. Anyone returning to campus must receive approval to do so. At this time, we anticipate verifying date of U.S. entry on I-94 Forms. We will have more details in the weeks ahead about the return to campus check-in process and will share information as it becomes available. 

I am living in a country impacted by coronavirus travel bans to the U.S. Is it advisable to travel to another country before traveling to the U.S. in order to arrive in time for the fall semester?

The International Center cannot advise on travel to countries other than the U.S. It is unclear how long the travel bans and other global travel restrictions will remain in effect for re-entry to the U.S. However, if you are considering traveling to another country before entering the U.S., do your research: Review travel restrictions for that country before making travel plans. Know that you must remain physically present outside of the country impacted by travel restrictions for 14 days or more before being permitted to enter the U.S. Finally, keep in mind that upon arrival in the U.S., you will be expected to complete a 14-day quarantine before being allowed back on campus.

For travel inquiries and up-to-date information on travel restrictions bans, please visit the US Department of State's COVID-19 Country Specific Information page and CDC's country-specific health information and travel recommendations by country.

Presidential proclamations

How does President Trump’s Presidential Proclamation suspending individuals seeking initial entry to the U.S. as an immigrant (green card holder) affect me?

We understand you may have concerns about this proclamation, but it does not impact student visa categories.

How does President Trump’s Presidential Proclamation restricting travel of foreign nationals from Brazil to the United States affect me?

This proclamation is aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus coming into the United States from Brazil, a country with some of the highest cases worldwide according to Johns Hopkins University. In short, it prohibits foreign nationals, which includes international students with F-1 visas, entering the United States if they have been physically present in Brazil within 14 days before their attempted entry.

This proclamation follows prior presidential orders temporarily barring the admission of foreign nationals who were physically present in the UK, Ireland, the European Schengen Area, China, and Iran. The restrictions remain in effect until terminated by the President.

How does President Trump’s Presidential Proclamation suspending entry of nonimmigrants of certain students and researchers from the People’s Republic of China affect me?

This order bars the entry of certain graduate students and researchers who are affiliated with universities that have ties to the Chinese military. This proclamation does not affect Chinese undergraduate students nor Chinese graduate students in non-sensitive fields.

Does President Trump’s Presidential Proclamation suspending entry of aliens who present risk to the U.S. labor market following the coronavirus outbreak impact the optional practical training (OPT) program?

This order, which extends through December 31, 2020, does not impose new restrictions on OPT, a program that permits international students to work in the U.S. after graduating while staying on their F student visas.

Racial inequality, injustice and protesting

The United States is in the midst of a difficult time as we grapple with violence by police against Black Americans and the protests in response. Many of us are mourning George Floyd, a Black man who was killed under police custody on May 25. Below we respond to concerns we have heard from international students.

Special thanks to the Office of International Students and Scholars at Washington University in St. Louis for sharing many of the resources and materials included here.

I’m frightened, confused, angry…

It is OK to feel confused, overwhelmed, sad, angry and/or scared. There are protests in Columbia and around the world right now. Most protests are peaceful. Protesters are asking for: justice for Black men, women and children that have been killed, reforms to police tactics and training, and an end to racial discrimination. Protesting is a protected right in the U.S. and has been a primary way that Americans have stood up against injustice and unfair treatment since the country’s founding.

As international students, it can be confusing and emotional to watch these events unfold. It may also be difficult to put current events into the historical context of the U.S. Some of our international students have become very knowledgeable about race in the U.S. and have even become advocates for racial change in the U.S. However, most students have not had the time to learn about the Black experience and their long struggle for racial justice and equity in the U.S.

We understand that you, like us, are experiencing the stress of both a pandemic as well as political upheaval in the same space and time. Please know that we are here and available to discuss your feelings and concerns during this difficult time.

Do international students with F-1 visas have the same rights to freedom of expression as U.S. citizens?

Everyone in the U.S. has the right under the U.S. Constitution to free speech and freedom of assembly. This includes citizens and foreign nationals. That being said, international students potentially have more to lose if they have an altercation with the police during a protest. For example, if the police say that everyone needs to disperse and instead you stay and get arrested, your arrest could lead to serious immigration consequences. The consequence would depend on the charge; in some cases, your student visa could be revoked or you could be permanently barred from coming to the U.S.

It is up to you whether to take part in the current protests. If you decide to do so, it would be prudent to think about safety. Have a plan on how to get there and how to get home. If you sense any escalation or threat of arrests, you should leave. (And don’t forget about the global pandemic as well – wear your mask).

How can I be an ally?

An ally is someone who stands up for others. An ally recognizes that though they are not a member of a marginalized group(s) they support, they make a concerted effort to better understand the struggle. Because an ally might have more privilege, they are powerful voices alongside marginalized ones. There are many ways to be an ally. It’s important to find a way that feels safe and appropriate for you.

  • Some are posting on social media​
  • Some are protesting in the streets​
  • Some are donating silently​
  • Some are spending money at Black-owned businesses and restaurants
  • Some are educating themselves​
  • Some are having tough conversations with friends and family

How can I learn more?

Get your news from a variety of sources, including Black-owned newspapers and minority staffed websites:

Editorially independent radio and podcasts:


Immigration and travel

Is my immigration status affected by Columbia College moving to online classes?

No. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will allow 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), even if they have left the United States and are taking online classes elsewhere.

I would prefer to stay in the United States after graduation. What are my options?

Options are as follows:

  • Remain in the United States and apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
  • Remain in the United States during the grace period after your program end date, which is 60 days for F-1 students.
  • Pursue another degree in the United States and transfer (if eligible) your SEVIS record to another institution.
  • File an application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to change to another nonimmigrant classification. The discretion of approval falls to USCIS and the International Center cannot assist in moving your request forward.

Will I have any problems re-entering the United States as an F-1 student if I am out of the country for more than 5 months?

No. While the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, students are deemed to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study. For that reason, the five-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(4) will not apply for students who remain in Active status. However, keep in mind that students will need a valid, unexpired visa to re-enter the United States.

Do I need to report my change of address if I vacate my current on- or off-campus residence and relocate to a new U.S. address?

Yes. You are required to report changes of address to the International Center within 10 days of moving.

My visa is expiring/has expired. If I leave the United States now, but plan to return after the expiration date of my visa, will I need a new visa or can I re-enter on an expired visa?

If a student leaves the United States and their visa will have expired by the date they wish to re-enter the United States, then they will need to obtain a new visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate before they can re-enter the United States (Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter the United States). The U.S. State Department announced on March 18 that routine U.S. visa services have been suspended indefinitely worldwide. The International Center staff is monitoring this situation closely and will send updates as they become available.

I am a new student and have already paid my SEVIS fee. If I am unable to enroll next session, what happens to the SEVIS fee I already paid?

It depends. As long as students maintain the same SEVIS record, there is no need to transfer the I-901 SEVIS fee payment. Students who are unable to enroll in the next session may defer enrollment for a future date.

Health insurance (applicable to Day Program students only)

Is COVID-19 covered by my health insurance?

Yes. LewerMark Health Insurance covers COVID-19.

When will my health insurance coverage begin?

Coverage for Academic Year 2020-2021 begins August 5, 2020. Please note that LewerMark Health Insurance provides coverage in the United States and all countries except your home country. 

Employment and finances

Can I apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) while I am in my home country?

No. Current immigration regulations require that the application be filed in the United States.

Will there be flexibility in the 90 days of unemployment for students on OPT?

No. To date, SEVP has not provided additional guidance related to the rules for unemployment while on OPT.

If I have already applied for OPT, can I expect processing delays due to COVID-19 impacts to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)?

It is impossible to predict USCIS response times. Students should check the USCIS website for updates or visit the USCIS COVID-19 response page. As of March 18, in-person services have been suspended, but this does not include F-1 OPT which is a mail-in application requiring no interview or in-person appointment.

Can students extend OPT given the issues related to employment and COVID-19?

It is impossible to predict USCIS response times. Students should check the USCIS website for updates or visit the USCIS COVID-19 response page. As of March 18, in-person services have been suspended, but this does not include F-1 OPT which is a mail-in application requiring no interview or in-person appointment.

Beyond OPT, what are other work options?

Students may still be authorized for CPT. Depending on individual circumstances, they may be eligible for economic hardship employment. Please contact the International Center at for more information.

My income has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. What can I do?

The International Center staff are sensitive to international students’ possible financial difficulties and the stress it may cause. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is an option for students to work during the summer – full or part time – as long as the student meets eligibility requirements and is enrolled in a CPT-related course during the summer. Employment must be directly related to the student’s current degree of study.

Do international students qualify for the U.S. government’s stimulus package checks?

It depends. Individuals who are classified as non-residents for tax purposes will not receive the government stimulus payment. Individuals who filed taxes in 2018 and/or 2019 and were considered residents for tax purposes may be eligible for the stimulus payment.

In general, international students in F status who have been in the United States for 5 years or less are nonresidents for tax purposes; and do not qualify for the U.S. government’s stimulus payment.

Can I file my U.S. tax form(s) from outside the United States?

Columbia College provides tax software (Sprintax) for nonresidents to use to prepare their federal and state income tax returns. Sprintax can be accessed from inside or outside the United States. However, if Sprintax determines an individual to be a nonresident for tax purposes, they cannot e-file. They will be required to mail their tax return to the IRS. If a refund is expected, students should not close their U.S. bank accounts until after the refund is deposited.

I am experiencing difficulty covering living expenses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. How do I apply for Columbia College Cares: The Emergency Fund for Student Support?

If you are in need of financial assistance, please send an email to In the email, explain why you are requesting financial assistance and provide information about your personal situation. Title your email "CC Cares Emergency Funding Request".

Campus operations

Is the International Center still open?

While the physical office is closed and staff are working from remote locations, the International Center will continue to process requests and offer immigration advising during our regular business hours (Monday – Friday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm) through phone, email, and Zoom.

I graduated in April. May I attend the December Commencement?

Yes, but attendance will be virtual. With federal, state, and local health guidelines mandating that large, indoor events are not allowed, hosting in-person ceremonies isn't feasible right now. With that in mind, Columbia College will host a virtual commencement ceremony that will launch on December 19, 2020. Whether graduating seniors are part of the traditional Day Program, take evening classes in Columbia, attend online, or are a student at one of our many locations around the country, they are eligible to be part of this virtual celebration. More information will be provided as that date nears.

Last updated October 19, 2020.


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