The information below was updated on 11/12/2020.
International Grinnellians face unique challenges related to visa services; status compliance; border and travel issues; etc. — especially in the midst of this global pandemic. The OISA is dedicated to supporting you!
Compliance issues differ based on your class year; your SEVP status (initial vs. active); and/or your physical location. Your personal situation, nationality, and class year may also impact your options.
The U.S. government’s regulatory accommodations for COVID-19 expire on December 31. The information below reflects the current regulatory framework, but things may change and we will communicate with you through email and via this page.
You are invited to consult with the OISA. Send questions to OISA or set up a Calendly/Webex appointment with: Karen Edwards, associate dean and director, PDSO/RO; or Brenda Strong, assistant director, DSO/ARO.
COVID-19 Updates for International Students
Upper-Level International Students
Upper-level international students who are re-enrolling at Grinnell following a leave or suspension may enroll online part- or full-time from abroad, but you are not eligible to enter the U.S. and begin your F-1 program until the College offers hybrid or in-person learning for you. Please contact the OISA for individual advising.
First-Year International Students
First-year international students (new or transfer-in) must declare your plans for the spring no later than Dec. 18, 2020 by completing this Spring Enrollment Survey. If your plans change, you can resubmit the survey.
All first-year students are invited to campus for Spring Term 1. International students who are able to come in February will be able to seek continued residency through Spring 2.
- If you can schedule a visa appointment prior to Dec. 18, we are eager to assist in your transition to campus. Please plan your arrival for Wednesday, Jan. 20, or Thursday, Jan. 21. Due to public health precautions, family members will not be permitted to enter residence halls and other campus buildings, so we strongly discourage friends or relatives from traveling with you this year. The College will assist with transportation from the Des Moines International Airport, and you will move directly into your residence hall room to complete COVID-19 testing and quarantine (students who test positive will be further isolated). During your first week on campus, you will complete your SEVIS check-in with the OISA, open a local bank account, and complete student employment paperwork. You must complete your online health forms prior to your arrival (direct related questions to Student Health and Wellness). You will receive additional arrival detail over the coming weeks.
- If you are unable to obtain a visa by Dec. 18, or you face border challenges that prevent your arrival, we anticipate your full-time online enrollment from home, during both Spring Term 1 and 2.
- If you are not able to enroll full-time, you can submit a Part-Time Status Request Form.
- If you are not able to enroll online, it is essential that you either:
- apply for a leave of absence (login required) through the Office of Academic Advising (this option is available for students who have already enrolled online this fall);
- or, request a gap year to further defer your enrollment to August 2021, by sending an email to the Director of Admission. Gap year space is limited and requests will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis.
In either case, the OISA will need to defer your arrival in SEVIS and we will issue your new I-20 at a later date.
- All of you were invited to participate in IPOP [online], and we hope you watched the sessions and participated in synchronous meetings with your IPOP Mentor. The pre-recorded sessions are still available.
Additional Reminders for All Initial Status or Transfer In F-1 students
- Contact OISA if you need assistance with issuance of or changes to your Form I-20.
- Arrange an F-1 visa appointment at your nearest U.S. Consulate. Prepare for your appointment by reading the guidance in your IPOP Planning Packet, and review the posted information at: Travel.State.Gov, Education USA, and Study in the States.
- Please use our form to update the OISA about your progress securing a visa.
- You may study online from outside of the U.S. — part-time (PDF, login required) or full-time.
- You may not enter the U.S. using a tourist visa in order to enroll at Grinnell.
- The U.S. government’s current COVID-19 accommodations do not allow “initial” or transfer-in students to enter the U.S. to study fully online, so we will keep you informed when there are updates or changes to either the government’s rules or to the College’s plans. Initial status students who arrive in February will be able to enrolled in the First Year Experience course.
F-1 students who are inside the U.S. are allowed to continue your studies remotely through Dec. 31, 2020. This includes any F-1 Grinnellians who are enrolled full-time during the Fall semester.
Full-time enrollment is required. You must register for at least 6 Grinnell College credits per block.
*Exception: Reduced Course Load (PDF) authorization is available for a documented medical condition or for seniors in your final term. RCL authorization must be approved via the OISA.
*Summer term is optional, but enrollment can be counted toward your eligibility for practical training benefits.
If you do not live on campus, you are required (per your F-1 status) to report your current physical address to the OISA within 10 days of any move.
*The OISA’s address update form temporarily redirects current students to the College’s “Current Physical Address” portal, since this information is also important for other offices.
Departure of the U.S.
- If you need to depart the U.S. during the semester, please report your plans to the OISA.
- Re-entry is never guaranteed. Review the validity of your travel documents; including your I-20 travel endorsement (DSO signatures are valid for 12 months, for currently enrolled students). Electronic devices and/or social media engagement are also subject to search at the U.S. border.
- Confirm the current status of the international borders that you will cross when you travel home, and when you will re-enter the U.S.
- If you have been arrested in the U.S., consult with the OISA and your immigration attorney before you travel.
- COVID-19 Accommodations expire on Dec. 31, and options are subject to change.
- A new Proposed Rule to terminate Duration of Status for F-1 students is pending. If this rule goes into effect, students who enter afterwards will be immediately subject. More details forthcoming.
Other Things to Consider
- Complete the Winter Break Travel Form by Dec. 1, 2020. All on-campus residents and students living off-campus in the town of the Grinnell are required to complete this form. Note that limited need-based financial assistance is available to students who need to stay on campus over the break.
- If you secure an internship (paid or unpaid, remote or in person) you are required to secure CPT authorization (PDF) because YOU are inside the U.S. in F-1 status — regardless of the location of the employer. CPT is not available during winter break.
- Students who live inside the U.S. may work remotely for the College, without additional authorization. You are limited to 20 hrs. per week while school is in session, and you may work full time over break or vacation periods (including winter break).
- If you are living outside of the State of Iowa, please visit the SHAW website to learn more about your access to medical assistance, counseling services, and to seek advice regarding your Grinnell Student Health Insurance.
- If you are considering a personal leave please consult Academic Advising and the OISA, and review: F-1 Mid-Program Departure and Return (PDF). This will necessitate a departure of the U.S., or a Change of Status application.
*Students who are re-enrolling following a leave or suspension need to read the section for “INITIAL” status students.
F-1 students who have continued to enroll online from outside of the U.S. this fall have been eligible to maintain an active SEVIS record, based on the COVID-19 accommodations that expire on Dec. 31, 2020. We will share updates for Spring 2021 as soon as we know them.
Full-time enrollment is required, including at least 6 Grinnell College credits per block (Summer term is optional).
*Exception: Reduced Course Load (PDF) authorization is available for a documented medical condition, or for seniors in your final term. RCL authorization must be pre-approved via the OISA.
*The OISA added a notation in your SEVIS record confirming that you ‘departed the U.S. temporarily due to COVID-19 and will continue to enroll full time.’
Other Things to Consider
- The College is accepting petitions for continuous residency. Extraordinary challenges due to international time zones will be considered. Please consider the health and safety risks carefully, and feel free to consult the OISA regarding the pros and cons of such a petition.
- F-1 May graduates: if you plan to apply for post completion OPT next spring, we recommend that you petition for continuous residency for Spring 1 and Spring 2, since you must be inside the U.S. to apply, and adjudication takes approximately 3 months.
- As an online student from outside the U.S., you still have access to nearly all campus offices and services — including Academic Resource Centers, Careers Life and Services, Student Affairs, etc. There are two exceptions:
- SHAW is not able to offer direct services to students who are outside of the U.S. due to compliance/licensure limitations. You can seek general advice or referrals, and other confidential services are available (Title IX; CRSSJ; Ombuds).
- You may not be employed by the College. This includes any paid campus jobs, leadership positions, and/or paid research or tutoring.
- When you are outside of the U.S., you are not subject to the limitations of practical training authorization. If you pursue an internship experience while you are outside the country, you do not need to seek CPT (for example).
- If you return to the U.S. (either to Campus, or to another location in the U.S.) you must:
- Report your current physical address to the OISA within 10 days of your re-entry or relocation. *Our form temporarily redirects current students to the Current Physical Address portal, since other campus offices also require access to this information.
- If you waived out of the Grinnell Student Health Insurance Plan (because you were outside of the U.S.) – you must be sure to purchase INTO the plan before you return to the U.S.! The cost will be pro-rated based on the term of your return. Contact the Cashier’s Office for assistance.
- Review the validity of your travel documents; including your I-20 travel endorsement (DSO signatures are valid for 12 months, for currently enrolled students). Electronic devices and/or social media engagement are also subject to search at the U.S. border.
- Confirm the current status of the international borders that you will cross when you travel home, and when you will re-enter the U.S.
- In addition to the unknown status of pending COVID-19 accommodations (which expire on December 31st), a new Proposed Rule to eliminate Duration of Status for F-1 students is pending. If it goes into affect, students who enter the U.S. afterwards will be immediately subject. Details forthcoming.
- If you prefer to reduce your enrollment to part-time (PDF); or to apply for a personal leave, this is possible. In either scenario, the OISA will need to terminate your SEVIS record [as an ‘authorized early withdrawal’ with a notation that ‘we anticipate this student’s return to the U.S. to complete their degree at Grinnell College.’]. You will only be eligible to return to the U.S. for hybrid or in person learning. You will need to secure a new ‘initial status’ I-20; submit a new $350 SEVIS fee; and you will need to enroll in active status for two consecutive semesters in order to [re]gain access to practical training benefits. If your F-1 visa is still date valid on your return, you will not need to renew it.
Returning (active status) F-1 visa holders who enter the U.S. must present a date-valid passport, F-1 visa, and their I-20 (with a valid DSO travel endorsement). Alumni authorized for post-completion OPT must also present an active EAD.
Potential resources include:
- NAFSA Association of International Educators (announcement re. visa services, status compliance requirements, and U.S. entry restrictions for travel from China, Iran, Schengen, UK, Ireland, and Brazil. *As of July 16, F-1 visa holders from Schengen Area, UK, and Ireland are offered a “National Interest Exception” from the entry ban.
- The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- The U.S. Department of State posts Travel Advisories for global destinations.
- Global Dashboard on COVID-19 Government Policies
- Kayak [entry] Restrictions by Country
- TravelCentre Travel Regulations Map
Feel free to contact the OISA to recommend additional resources.
*While not directly related to COVID-19, we wanted to offer additional information about this proposed rule. Key Resources: NAFSA Association of International Education; and the President’s Alliance on Immigration in Higher Education
On Sept. 25, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposed rule: Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission and an Extension of Stay Procedure for Nonimmigrant Academic Students, Exchange Visitors, and Representatives of Foreign Information Media.
Grinnell College joined 90 institutions and organizations, along with the President’s Alliance on Immigration in Higher Education, in a letter asking the U.S. DHS to extend the comment period to 60-days. The OISA is also submitting comments, and we will continue to analyze the rule and watch for any changes that result from the proposed rule comment period. If a final rule is published, we will communicate its effect on the Grinnell College campus and our beloved international students and scholars.
The proposed rule does not have an effective date. It must proceed through the standard public notice and comment procedures before a final rule is published. If it is published, there will be a 60-day preparation period before it becomes active. If it becomes a final published rule, it will have real implications for Grinnell College and for our students and Exchange Visitors. In its current form:
- It eliminates Duration of Status (D/S). [Currently, F and J visa holders can remain in lawful status beyond the expiration of their entry visa, as long as they are in compliance with their F or J status. This includes maintaining an active SEVIS record, a date valid Form I-20 or DS-2019; and a date valid Passport.]
- It requires institutions to use the E-Verify system for all employees, in order for any F/J students and exchange visitors to secure a 4-year admission period.
- F/J students and scholars would be limited to a 2-year admission period:
- if they were born in or are citizens of countries on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List (currently, Iran, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea);
- if they are Citizens of countries with a student and exchange visitor total overstay rate of greater than 10% as published in the DHS Entry/Exit Overstay report (currently:
- or if it is in the U.S. national interest, as deemed by the DHS Secretary.
- It establishes a process for F/J students to submit Extension of Stay (EOS) applications to the U.S. government, if they wish to stay beyond the 2 or 4 year period. The application includes a fee, biometrics, and adjudication.
- The rule also reduces the F-1 grace period from 60 days to 30 days.
- The rule includes “transition” implications for individuals who hold Duration of Status (which includes all currently enrolled F/J visitors with active SEVP records, as well as recent graduates with OPT or STEM OPT authorization). Those already inside the U.S. at the time the rule is published would transition to a fixed program end date, based on their current I-20 or DS-2019 (or EAD), plus the current grace period (60/30). Those who seek entry or re-enter to the U.S. after the rule is published will become subject to the fixed date framework outlined in the new rule. Students who are currently in the post-completion OPT application process will not have to file the I-539 Extension of Stay, and they can remain lawful through the expiration of their OPT and 60-day grace period.