UKIC / ISSS FAQ During COVID-19 Crisis

ISSS FAQ During COVID-19 Crisis

ISSS Operations

Is ISSS offering in-person services during this transition to online classes?

ISSS is open during this period but we are not able to offer in-person services. However, our ISSS staff members are currently working remotely to continue serving our international students, scholars, and employees. In place of in-person meetings and appointments, we are providing services via phone, email and virtual meetings.

You can find individual staff member email addresses and links to set up virtual meetings through Calendly on the ISSS Staff Directory.

How can I connect with ISSS remotely?

Each ISSS staff member can be reached in several ways. You can call and leave a voice message, email the staff member directly, or set up a virtual meeting through Calendly. Each staff member’s contact information can be found on the ISSS Staff Directory.

General

I'm applying for an ITIN. Can a DSO or ARO still certify my document?

Yes, please send an email to isss@uky.edu and include scanned copies of the W-7 (PDF), passport biographical page, visa stamp and I-20/DS-2019. Click here to visit the IRS page. 

I want to apply for a Driver’s License but I’m not sure if it’s possible during the COVID-19 crisis. Where can I find information about this?

Currently, there is information about the current status of the Department of Motor Vehicles on their website, click here to check for any updates as they become available. There is also an important message regarding an automatic renewal for students and scholars that already have a license.

My visa stamp is expiring. Do I need to renew it (leave the U.S.) in order to maintain my F or J status?

No. The visa stamp is a travel document and its dates of validity do not determine status. You do not need to have a valid visa stamp inside the U.S. to maintain F or J status. If your visa stamp is expired and you depart the U.S., you must renew it before being eligible to reenter the U.S. Canadian citizens and those using automatic revalidation are exempted.

What is the coronavirus stimulus aid package? Are non-immigrants eligible?

On March 27, 2020 U.S. Congress approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES).  Among many other things, CARES provides financial relief ("Recovery Rebates") for individuals and families. Under the Act, single individuals earning less than $75,000 can expect to receive a one-time payment of $1,200; married couples filing jointly earning less than $150,000 can expect to receive a one-time payment of $2,400; and families can expect to receive an additional one-time payment of $500 per child. 

F-1 students are only eligible for these benefits if they are considered a resident for tax purposes based on the Substantial Presence Test and have a Social Security Number. It is unclear how or when these payments will be distributed. If you have any concerns or questions we recommend you consult an immigration or tax attorney.

Two potential resources which may help you in your guidance are:

  1. The Wake Forest Law Review post here: wakeforestlawreview.com.
  2. This post from Protecting Immigrant Families: protectingimmigrantfamilies.org.

How can I apply for a Social Security Card during the COVID-19 crisis?

The SSA offices are 100% telework.  At this time they are making in-person appointments with a manager at the office when there is an emergency need for new cards only.  If you are absolutely unable to be employed without this card, students and scholars should call (1-866-530-7754).   Otherwise,  it shouldn’t impact your ability to work at the University of Kentucky. 

Contact info for local offices: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/ic001.action#officeResults

Additional online resources: https://www.ssa.gov/coronavirus/

What can I do if I'm having financial difficulty in paying my rent, buying food, etc.?

If you are experiencing financial difficulties, please submit your financial situation to the UK Community of Concern (COC) here.

The Community of Concern is a group of individuals working in the UK Dean of Students office and they try to find resources to help students with difficulties they face as a student at UK.  

Also, you can consider applying for Severe Economic Hardship employment.  This is employment authorization available to F-1 students who are experiencing unexpected and severe economic hardship.   The authorization is granted by an application submitted to USCIS.  USCIS makes case-by-case decisions for off-campus employment for students who can show that new, unexpected circumstances beyond their control have created severe economic hardship. You can find more information our website:  https://international.uky.edu/ISSS/Students/F1Employment 

I filed the wrong tax return form and I need to file an amended tax return. I also received payment from the IRS mistake. What should I do?

If you filed as a resident (filed a Form 1040 instead of a Form 1040NR) by mistake, you should consider filing an amended tax return (and if you received a payment by mistake you can return it).  You don’t need to panic; the IRS receives thousands of amended returns each year and the process is relatively straightforward.  
 

You have three options: 

  1. File an amended tax return on your own 
  2. Contact Douglas Michael at michaeld@uky.edu who works with the UK College of Law Tax Clinic to get free help in filing an amended tax return 
  3. File an amended return online via Sprintax.  Check your email for how to access this system or contact isss@uky.edu to learn how to access it.  Note:  You may be required to pay a fee for this service since it’s not a regular federal form that has been covered by UK already. Also, here’s a resource provided by Sprintax: http://blog.sprintax.com/how-amend-tax-return-with-sprintax/ 

If you need to return a stimulus payment to the IRS. It’s a good idea to include a cover note to explain why they are returning the payment. Return of the payment should be done separately to filing the amended return. The IRS have provided instructions on how to return payment checks here

Finally, you should ensure to keep personal copies of everything you should send to the IRS.

 

F/J Students

How can I pick up my I-20 or DS-2019?

The ISSS main office is closed to all in-person traffic. If you urgently need a document that cannot be sent digitally, ISSS staff will arrange to have the document shipped to you.

If you plan to depart the United States, remember that a travel signature is not required to depart the country. If your travel signature will be more than a year old before you return, please contact the ISSS office after you’ve scheduled your return trip.

For some students, we may be able to email you the I-20 with a digital signature. SEVP has temporarily granted permission for Designated School Officials (DSOs) to provide a digital signature and email the I-20 due to the COVID-19 crisis. We have not yet received approval from the Department of State to send DS-2019s digitally.

How is my immigration status impacted during the university’s transition to online classes?

In accordance with the COVID-19: Guidance for SEVP Stakeholders, if a university temporarily stops in-person classes but implements online or other alternate learning procedures, you can remain in active status if you continue to participate in your coursework. This is only in effect for the duration of this emergency situation.  

Note:  SEVP’s guidance in this regard is subject to change.  Any change will be reflected here as well as in a message to our students.

Can I return to my home country and complete the semester there via online coursework?

During this time, UK does not require you to remain in Lexington. You may complete your coursework from other parts of and/or outside of the United States.

Can/should I travel internationally?

International travel is always a risk. In usual times, students who travel outside of the United States risk being denied re-entry. Due to COVID-19, these risks are amplified.  International travel has been greatly disrupted; travel restrictions and bans are constantly being added and changed.

ISSS cannot guarantee that any student who travels internationally will not face issues while trying to re-enter the United States. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 Restrictions on United States Visas and Entry, please refer to this link.

How can I get a travel signature on my I-20/DS-2019?

Remember that a travel signature is not required to depart the United States. If your travel signature will be more than a year old before you return, please contact the ISSS office after you’ve scheduled your return trip and arrangements will be made to have an updated I-20/DS-2019 sent to you. 

For some students, we may be able to email you the I-20 with a digital signature. SEVP has temporarily granted permission for Designated School Officials (DSOs) to provide a digital signature and email the I-20 due to the COVID-19 crisis. We have not yet received approval from the Department of State to send DS-2019s digitally.

What if I cannot depart the United States by the end of my grace period (a period of stay not exceeding 30/60 days after completion of a program of study or OPT/AT?

If you need to remain in the United States beyond the final day of your grace period, you may continue maintaining status by:

  • being admitted to a new academic program;
  • applying for OPT, STEM OPT, or Academic Training (AT) if eligible;
  • changing status if eligible; or
  • traveling to another country until returning to your home country is possible.

If none of these options are appropriate, you may be able to stay in the country beyond the grace period by changing to B1/2 visitor visa status due to travel restrictions.

It is recommended that you work with an attorney to be sure to meet the filing requirements and deadlines. Kentucky Refugee Ministries will conduct a consultation with students in Lexington in situations such as this one ($40 fee). You also can find an attorney on the AILA website (https://www.aila.org/). 

NOTE:  This only applies to students in F-1 visa status. Students in J-1 visa status may be ineligible to change their status in the United States depending on whether you are subject to the 2-year home residency requirement.

How does the university moving to online operations affect my on-campus employment?

While classes are online, F-1 and J-1 students are still permitted to work on campus as permitted by their visa regulations. Employment is still limited to 20 hours per week during the term. If possible, students are permitted to perform job duties remotely.

I am completing my degree in the next 90 days. Can I still apply for post-completion OPT?

Yes, students currently completing their degree online are still eligible to apply for post-completion OPT. Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days before the I-20 end date. All applications must be received by the USCIS before the 60-day grace period ends. More information on the application is available here.

I am currently participating in post-completion OPT, and my EAD will expire in the next 90 days. How can I apply for the STEM OPT Extension?

Students who have completed a STEM degree in the United States, may be eligible to extend their post-completion OPT for an additional 24 months. More information on the application is available here.

I have received an internship offer to work off-campus during the summer – can I still apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization?

Yes, please review the eligibility requirements for CPT here. You can begin the CPT application as soon as you have received a job offer and preregistered for your internship course.

What if my current internship is shortened due to the coronavirus?

If your employment is shortened, it is important to report the change to your DSO so that your SEVIS record can be updated to reflect your employment accurately.

Does my health insurance work if I go in for the COVID-19 related treatment?

Yes, the Student Health Plan covers treatment for COVID-19, as it does any other illness.

If I have symptoms, what should I do?

If you have a fever, cough, shortness of breath and/or trouble breathing or if you think you have had contact with someone who has COVID-19 then you should call the Information Nurse at 859-323-4636 before you visit University Health Service. https://ukhealthcare.uky.edu/university-health-service.

Is COVID-19 testing free?

COVID-19 testing cost is covered at 100% under the Student Health Plan. All other costs related to the office visit or treatment for COVID-19 will be covered on the SHP, according to plan provisions just like any other medical need.

Should I wear a mask if I have one?

This is a personal health decision and is at the discretion of each individual. Per the CDC website, facemasks are loose-fitting and provide only barrier protection against droplets, including large respiratory particles. No fit testing or seal check is necessary with facemasks. Most facemasks do not effectively filter small particles from the air and do not prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales. The role of facemasks is for patient source control (i.e. to prevent contamination of the surrounding area when a person coughs or sneezes). Patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should wear facemasks until they are isolated in a hospital or at home. The patient does not need to wear a facemask while isolated.

How can I order my transcript?

If you are concerned about your transcript, please contact the Registrar’s Office directly at (859) 257-7157 or via their website.

Will degrees still be awarded this semester?

Degrees will still be awarded on the normal timeline. You can learn how to apply for the degree here. You can find more information about the graduation ceremony on the Registrar’s website here: https://www.uky.edu/commencement/springceremonies.

If I have lost my job on-campus or I am unable to work on-campus due to COVID-19, am I eligible to apply for off-campus employment authorization?

If you have lost your on-campus job and no other on-campus employment opportunities are available, you may be eligible for employment authorization through Severe Economic Hardship. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will authorize off-campus employment only in cases of severe economic hardship after the student has been in F-1 status for at least one full academic year, or in emergent circumstances as defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For more information please see our webpage or speak a DSO in ISSS.

Can F-1 and J-1 students with on-campus jobs work remotely?

Yes, SEVIS has clarified this allowance in their FAQs here.

Are F-1 students allowed to use remote working options when already approved employment through OPT/CPT/On-Campus Employment?

F-1 students may work from home (remote working) if they are approved for CPT/OPT/on-campus working.  However, you don't need to enter the home address for the work address for OPT/CPT.  Just enter the employer's address as per normal but put a note in iCAT that you are working remotely AND that this is the same as your home address in SEVIS.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) Students

I am being asked/required by my employer to self-quarantine or work remotely. What does this mean for my OPT?

If your employer allows you to work remotely, there is no impact on your OPT due to self-quarantine. Similarly, if you can take leave (sick leave, vacation days, etc.), there is no impact on your OPT due to self-quarantine.

Per F-1 reporting requirements, you must update your “employer address” in the SEVP Portal within 10 days if you will be working at another location (including your home) for more than 10 days. 

How can I find a job in these difficult times?

You may want to review any resources available through GoinGlobal, or read this article on finding an OPT job during difficult times. Remember the UK Career Center is still serving students and you can reach them for help on career-related preparation or other questions about ways to find employment.

What if my grace period is ending and I can’t get a flight home?

If you need to remain in the United States beyond the final day of your grace period, you may continue maintaining status by being admitted to a new academic program, changing status if eligible, or traveling to another country until returning to your home country is possible.

If none of these options are appropriate, you may be able to stay in the country beyond the grace period by changing to B1/2 visitor visa status due to travel restrictions. It is recommended that you work with an attorney to be sure to meet the filing requirements and deadlines. Kentucky Refugee Ministries will do a consultation ($40 fee) with students in Lexington in situations like this. You can also find an attorney on the AILA website (https://www.aila.org/). 

NOTE:  This only applies to students in F-1 visa status.  Students in J-1 visa status may be ineligible to change their status in the United States depending on whether you are subject to the two-year home residency requirement.

Am I eligible for unemployment insurance?

In order to be eligible for unemployment insurance in Kentucky, a non-immigrant must have been granted work authorization. For example, students who have been working off campus using an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Students gaining educational credit for the work through Curricular Practical Training (CPT) will most likely not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Students who worked for the University of Kentucky with on-campus work authorization are not eligible for unemployment benefits. There are a few minor exceptions to this rule, however, if a student believes that they may be an exception they should consult their own counsel.

If someone in F or J status receives unemployment benefits due to losing their job due to COVID-19 the person will not be considered a public charge. Unemployment benefits are not considered a public benefit and thus, a person who receives unemployment insurance will not be disqualified for future immigration statuses due to the public charge rules.

I have lost my job or am worried about losing my job. What happens with my 90-day unemployment clock if I can no longer work due to Coronavirus?

First, there is no guidance from the Department of Homeland Security on this topic. ISSS continues to monitor updates and works within our professional community to advocate for guidance that would help our students.  We will notify students when there is any guidance on this topic. It is important to note that the international community has asked SEVP and USCIS to issue guidance on this issue and consider a temporary halt in counting of unemployment days – if any update is released (and we hope it will be) we will share it with you. In the meantime, we have to operate under the normal rules. We advise checking with an attorney for guidance related to the definition of “unemployment” as it is defined in the law.  It is important to determine if you are being “laid off” or if you are being placed on a "temporary leave in accordance with your company's leave policies. If you are not sure, please ask this question directly of your boss or your HR office, as this is a very important distinction.

What's the status of OPT? Is USCIS still open to process OPT applications?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has suspended all in-person services but they remain open and continue to process requests for OPT received by U.S. mail. 

As of now we are not aware of any delays on processing OPT requests caused by COVID-19.  If we become aware of any delays we will let you know. 

In the meantime, please plan ahead and remember that USCIS must receive your complete OPT application no later than 60 days after your program completion date.  

J-1 Exchange Visitors

If I am not able to access my lab or office, am I allowed to work remotely in Lexington or in my home country?

In either case, it’s necessary to receive approval from your UK supervisor, maintain your program objectives, and have your supervisor inform Marc Invergo at marc.invergo@uky.edu about this change.  If working remotely in your home country, it will be necessary to receive a letter from your supervisor with details of the work so that ISSS can add the Out of Country option in SEVIS.

 

I have decided to complete my program early and depart the United States. What do I need to do?

All J-1 scholars need to complete the departure form in iCAT before their DS-2019 expires.  If the J-1 is a student intern, it is also required that both the J-1 and the inviting faculty member complete a student intern evaluation. Contact Marc Invergo at marc.invergo@uky.edu to obtain this evaluation.

My DS-2019 is going to expire soon, but because the university has reduced operations, I am unable to complete my research. Am I eligible for an extension?

First, check if it is possible to complete your research remotely. If working remotely is not an option, and there is no continued work available, then you should make plans to return home.

My DS-2019 is going to expire soon, but my DS-2019 has already been extended to the maximum allowable stay for my category. What are my options?

If you have already reached your maximum duration of stay, then you may apply for a change of status if applicable for your visa category. However, if it is not, you would be granted the 30-day grace period and would need to exit the United States within that 30 days. 

Can my dependents (children) still attend school?

COVID-19 does not infringe upon the ability of your child or children to attend school.  Please check with the school regarding any changes.

My spouse would like to work in the United States. Can my spouse still send an application to USCIS to request work authorization?

 Yes, J-2's are still able to apply for work permission during this time but should be aware that there may be delays in processing.

I have a dependent spouse or child who is planning to arrive in the United States soon. Can I request a J-2 DS-2019 for them?

Yes, you can still request a J-2 DS-2019 by following the instructions on our website at https://international.uky.edu/ISSS/IFS/J1/J2Dependents. The earliest arrival date for any J-1/J-2 is July 15, 2020.

I am worried that my DS-2019 will expire before restrictions on international travel are lifted. Should I apply for an extension now?

Though we hope that things will be normalized in the months to come, it is impossible to know when the crisis related to COVID-19 will pass. Because of this uncertainty, we would advise you to discuss your extension plans with your supervisor as soon as possible.

Extensions should be submitted in iCAT at least two months in advance of the ending date on the DS-2019. If you do receive an extension and realize that the crisis has passed and that the extension is no longer necessary, please notify your J-1 advisor who can shorten your program.

Academic Departments Hiring and Hosting H-1B and J-1 Exchange Visitors

Can my department continue to invite a J-1 exchange visitors, other short-term lecturers, or invited speakers?

No speaker or short-term visitor from outside the United States may come to campus from any country or region under a CDC Warning Level 3, unless they self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in the United States, and before coming to campus. If you have questions about self-isolating, contact coronavirus@uky.edu.

Will ISSS process an Exchange Visitor request for a 7/15 (or later) start date now?

Per the Department of State's most recent guidance (dated March 13, 2020), university sponsors are urged to either cancel their J-1 exchange visitor programs  or defer their start dates to a date past the current 60-day suspension period.

Therefore, UK's International Student and Scholar Services office recommends the following:

  • All requests to invite a J-1 exchange visitor should include a start date no earlier than July 15, 2020, until further notice. Updates will be posted as the situation changes.
  • Per university policy, all other international visitors on campus (e.g. guest speakers, lecturers, etc.) are also included in this requirement.
  • Keep in mind that a July 15 start date will allow for entry into the United States up to 30 days before or 30 days after that start date. However, a scholar cannot receive payment from UK until the start date on their DS-2019.

What are the chances that the proposed July 15 start date be moved back again for J-1 exchange visitors?

The situation is fluid and departments should be aware that changes will be made in accordance with Department of State guidance and university policy. 

Is there a charge for repeated amended start dates for J-1 exchange visitor requests?

We have done our best to anticipate the most realistic start date to help you plan far enough ahead so you can avoid having to submit repeated amendment requests, which do have a cost attached to them.

Has premium processing been suspended for all H-1B requests?

On March 20, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the temporary suspension of premium processing services for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice due to COVID-19. 

This will impact both Cap-subject employers (industry) and Cap-exempt employers (NGOs, universities, etc.). It will impact UK as we prepare sponsoring H-1B visas and PERM cases for our researchers and faculty. 

USCIS will still be accepting petitions, but only through standard processing, which takes between six and nine months on average before the cases are adjudicated. The petitions this will most impact are the new H-1Bs that the university is sponsoring for those beneficiaries who are not currently in the country or who are in the United States on another visa category (such as J-1 or F-1 student status).
 

  • At this time, H-1B petitions that are Extensions, Amendments or Change of Employer (already H-1B working in the United States for another employer) should not be impacted as severely due to provisions in the law that allow auto-extensions of employment for a period of time while the USCIS processes the request.
  • As we move forward, please continue to keep start dates for NEW H-1B requests as far into the future as possible, preferably a minimum of six months prior to the intended start date. If you have a NEW H-1B request for a beneficiary that is currently outside the United States or on another visa that will change status to H-1B, our office will reach out to you after receiving the assessment forms. We will provide suggestions for the most effective way to file the petition. 
  • When a prospective employee or those with a confirmed UK job offer discloses information about their work authorization, please contact William Arnold (william.arnold@uky.edu) (859-257-6685), if you have any concerns or questions. There may be options, which could serve as immediate or back-up options to the H-1B filing, especially for new university graduates (e.g. Academic Training for J-1 students or Optional Practical Training for F-1 students).

When will premium processing resume for H-1B cases?

While this isn’t the first-time premium processing has been suspended, it is the first for a pandemic. Therefore, it’s difficult to make predictions. ISSS will notify departments as soon as we receive any updates on the resumption of services at USCIS.