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OIS Fall 2021 Visa, Travel, and Immigration Update for Current JHU Students

The following message was sent by email on 7/20/21 to all current students in F-1 and J-1 status.

Greetings, JHU International Students!

We hope your summer is going well and that you and your loved ones are remaining safe and healthy. As you make your preparations for the resumption of your programs in fall, please find below some tips, guidance, and reminders you may find helpful and informative.

International Travel for Those Inside the U.S.

We continue to strongly advise against travel outside the U.S. if it can be avoided. It is possible new restrictions may pop up with little or no warning. In any case, please discuss your plans with an advisor in OIS well prior to travel to weigh the risks and explore contingencies. Please see the following section for the documentation required to reenter the U.S. Note that you may remain in the U.S. with an expired U.S. visa. The visa must only be valid at the time of each entry to the U.S with some limited exceptions.

General Reminders for Students Returning to the U.S. from Abroad

There are several items you will need to reenter the U.S. For students from COVID travel-restricted countries, please review the “Travel to the U.S.” section below. Each F-1 or J-1 student must present the following:

  1. A passport with at least six months’ remaining validity (if you have less time remaining to expiration, you might only be admitted for the time remaining on your passport or even be denied entry);
  2. A valid F-1 or J-1 visa (students from Canada and Bermuda do not require student visas; for entry from certain countries, expired visas may be used under the Automatic Revalidation rule);
  3. A valid I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) with accurate and up-to-date personal and program information (name on document must match your passport name);
  4. Students on OPT need a valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD), commonly referred to as an OPT card, and should carry documentation confirming proof of employment;
  5. A travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 from an advisor in OIS that is no older than one year (no older than six months for students on OPT). Instructions for requesting a travel signature can be found on our website. Allow for 10 business days for processing of travel signature request. J-1 students allow extra time for international express mail shipping; and,
  6. A negative COVID test (see below).

Upon re-entry to the U.S., pull up and review your electronic I-94 arrival document from the Customs and Border Protection website. Check that all of the information is correct and that the “admit until” date is “D/S,” which stands for “duration of status.” Also check the stamp and notation in your passport (usually next to the visa) to ensure those are consistent with the electronic I-94 information. If you notice any errors, email OIS as soon as possible.

Travel to the U.S.—COVID Restrictions and Requirements

• COVID travel restrictions and National Interest Exceptions (NIE)

As you have probably heard by now, for programs starting on or after August 1, 2021, students from the COVID travel-restricted countries of China, India, Brazil, Iran, and South Africa are automatically granted a National Interest Exception (NIE) to the COVID travel restrictions, meaning that you do not need to request an NIE from the consulate in order to travel to the U.S. Students from the UK, Ireland, and the Schengen Area of Europe are not subject to the August 1, 2021 condition for the other countries.

While the Department of State notice was somewhat ambiguous regarding eligibility of continuing and F-1 OPT students for automatic NIEs in their announcement, it does refer to “students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program, including OPT,” so it is expected that continuing and OPT students returning to the U.S. on or after August 1 will also qualify for an automatic NIE.

If you attempt to travel to the U.S. for a fall program or resumption of OPT inside the U.S. prior to August 1, you should contact the consulate and your airline for confirmation that you will be able to travel under the automatic NIE on your chosen date. Additionally, keep in mind that Customs and Border Protection is ultimately responsible for determining your eligibility for admission to the U.S.

• Negative COVID test requirement for ALL air travelers

All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated peopleare required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 3 days before travel, or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months before they board a flight to the United States. More information for international travelers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control can be found here and here.

• University COVID guidance

JHU COVID guidance and information is found here. Vaccine FAQs are located here; note the special section entitled “Vaccination Mandate – International Students.”

Visa Appointments and Issuance

If you already have a valid F-1 or J-1 visa for re-entry, you may still use it. You do not have to obtain a new one before returning to the U.S.

However, some individuals whose visas have expired and therefore need to renew their visas have reached out to OIS to report difficulties in getting a visa appointment at the U.S. consulate in their country. Unfortunately, it is clear consulates around the world are not fully operating at pre-pandemic levels and are only slowly resuming some routine services. A recent article from Inside Higher Ed captures the essence of what has been happening worldwide.

Here are a few key points to remember when applying for a visa:

  • A visa application is personal to the individual, and the consulate will not speak to JHU about your individual case;
  • Consulates are given wide latitude by the U.S. Department of State in how they conduct services, even at different consulates in the same country;
  • Many consulates are still temporarily closed or offering emergency services only, while others are slowly resuming routine services; consular services will vary based on local conditions;
  • Consulates worldwide are backlogged and are currently handling requests from students admitted in fall 2020, spring 2021, and fall 2021, but they are working as best they can to prioritize student volume; and,
  • Student visas are a high priority among all non-immigrant visas, meaning students will be given visa appointments ahead of most other visa applicants.
  • Students who have had a valid F-1 or J-1 student visa in the past four years MAY receive a waiver of the visa interview. See Department of State notice here.

Tips for scheduling a visa interview appointment:

  • Only you can schedule the appointment via the consulate’s scheduling system, and it may be necessary to visit the consulate’s website daily or several times a day until you see appointments become available; new appointments may become available at any time.
  • You may view general appointment information for each consulate by visiting –check this frequently for updates.
  • Prepare contingency plans should the visa backlog continue past the start of fall; consult with your department’s academic advising team regarding delayed arrival, remote study possibilities, leave of absence options, etc.
  • You may be able to request an “expedited visa appointment” with the consulate once you are within 30 days of the start of fall term. Check the consulate’s website for instructions.
  • Good luck and keep us posted on the status of your visa efforts and if you encounter anything out of the ordinary (as we routinely pass along special issues to our Government Affairs colleagues so they may inform our congressional delegation).

For more complete information, visit our COVID Immigration and Travel FAQs here. After reviewing, if you still have uncertainties about your plans for fall, do not hesitate to reach out to [email protected].

Sincerely,The Office of International Services

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