(Last updated 8/10/2020.)

This page is designed to help international graduate students navigate the particular challenges they face resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The first portion describes a variety of situations international students may find themselves in and what their options for taking or teaching classes are, given their individual circumstances. Below that, you will find information on other important topics. Please note that GEO does not offer official immigration or tax advice. 

Additionally, the International Center has FAQ pages for continuing students and new/transferring students, although they are not specific to graduate students or GSIs. 

If you have more questions or need assistance, you should check the International Center website, or contact them at (734) 764-9310 or icenter@umich.edu. They provide immigration support for all campuses and their website has a lot of helpful information. 

For campus specific support, students at UM-Dearborn can contact the Office of International Affairs, or email umdoia-international@umich.edu. Students UM-Flint can contact the Flint International Center, or email International.Flint@umich.edu.

Check out our other pages for non-COVID specific information about GEO, your contractual rights, and helpful information on healthcare and international student issues. Check out our general COVID FAQ with information about your contractual rights under COVID-19.

What to do if…

Important Topics

What to do if…

You are in the U.S. currently and plan to stay here

(This applies to continuing students only. If you are transferring from another US university or starting a new degree, you are generally considered a “new student”) 

Options for Taking Classes

  • You can take all your classes online. The International Center does recommend you take at least 1 hybrid/in-person class, just in case anything changes with the regulations. 
  • You must be enrolled full-time. 

Options for Teaching

Documents to Prepare

  • For J-1 students, you may need to apply for a secondary site of operations, if you are in the US but not in Ann Arbor (or your normal work location). Contact the International Center and your department administrator/faculty advisor for advice. 

Special Considerations

  • Be sure to keep your address up-to-date in Wolverine Access: You must report any change of your current address (US residential address) and permanent address (home country residential address) within 10 days. Your U.S. address cannot be a PO Box. 

You were in the US (on March 9), left, and will come back to the U.S. in time for the Fall 2020 semester

(This applies to continuing students only. If you are transferring from another US university or starting a new degree, you are generally considered a “new student”) 

Options for Taking Classes

  • You can take all your classes online if you’re a continuing student and were enrolled full-time in Winter 2019. You will not be violating the 5-month rule, which refers to enrollment status rather than physical presence in the U.S. 

Options for Teaching

  • You can teach remotely or hybrid, if your department allows.
  • You will need to have a current i-9 and Social Security Number (SSN) 
  • If you need to obtain or renew your i-9, this can be done once you return to the country. 

Documents to Prepare

  • Before you enter, make sure your travel signature on your I-20/DS-2019 is valid (i.e., no less than one year old). If you need a new travel signature, contact the International Center. See below for more information on entering the U.S.
  • For J-1 students, you may need to apply for a secondary site of operations, if you will spend the semester in a different U.S. town/state. Contact the International Center and your department administrator/faculty advisor for advice. 

Special Considerations

  • Have a place ready to quarantine for two weeks after your arrival. 
  • If you think you might be unable to enter the U.S. in time for the first day of classes due to travel or other restrictions, be sure to reach out to your hiring and enrolling departments and keep them updated. 
  • Be sure to keep your address up-to-date in Wolverine Access: You must report any change of your current address (US residential address) and permanent address (home country residential address) within 10 days. Your US address cannot be a PO Box. 

You were in the US (on March 9), left, and want to stay in your home country

(This applies to continuing students only. If you are transferring from another US university or starting a new degree, you are generally considered a “new student”) 

Options for Taking Classes

  • You can take courses online from your home country.
  • You need to be enrolled full-time to maintain your F1/J1 status and to avoid violating the 5-Month Rule, which refers to full-time enrollment rather than physical presence in the U.S. If you were not enrolled full-time in Winter 2020, contact the International Center for advice. 

Options for Teaching

  • If you are unable to travel to Ann Arbor, you will be able to teach remotely if the class allows. You will not need a visa, i-9, or Social Security Number (SSN) to teach from outside the U.S. 
  • If you have received a job offer, this cannot be rescinded. All contract protections still apply. Contact umgeo@3550.org if you have any concerns. 

Documents to Prepare

  • Make sure you stay in touch with the International Center to maintain your I-20/DS-2019 status and keep your travel signature up-to-date so that you can easily return to the US.
  • Teaching from outside the U.S. requires filing in some extra paperwork for tax and payroll. You must check in with your departmental administrator. 

Special Considerations

  • Be sure to keep your address up-to-date in Wolverine Access: You must report any change of your permanent address (home country residential address) and update your current address (US residential address) within 10 days of entering the US.  Your U.S. address must be residential, not a PO Box or Departmental address. 

You are outside of the U.S. but want to come here to begin your graduate program

(If you are a transferring student, changing degree program, or are otherwise in the U.S. under a different visa category, “new student” regulations still apply to you – contact the International Center for advice)

Options for Taking Classes

  • You are NOT eligible to take a full online load: you need to take at least one course in person/hybrid. You will not be issued a F1/J1 visa for a 100% online course load. You cannot enter the country on an F1/J1 visa if your full course load is online. 
  • You CAN remain in the U.S. if the University switches to 100% online after you arrive.

Options for Teaching

Documents to Prepare

  • We recommend you PRINT OUT documentation to prove that your course load will not be fully online. Present this if asked by officials at the border. We do not recommend digital copies as you won’t be able to use your phone at the border. See below for more information on entering the US.
  • If you will be arriving late due to visa issues or travel restrictions, check with your department and obtain a specific letter/authorization from your department. Without this official authorization, you won’t be able to enter the US after the deadline on your I-20/DS-2019. 

Special Considerations

  • Check with your local embassy/consulate about visa processing. Every country has different reopening guidelines and wait times. Be sure to bring as much documentation as possible, including about the in-person nature of your studies in the U.S. 
  • Stay in touch with your hiring and enrolling departments about your expected arrival. 
  • Have a place ready to quarantine for two weeks after your arrival. 

You are outside of the U.S. and want to stay in your home country while beginning your graduate program

Options for Taking Classes

  • Departments should not dissuade students who cannot travel to the U.S. at this time from beginning their graduate program. However, your department may expect you to enter the U.S. and begin your program on campus if you are able. Be in touch with your enrolling department about your options. 
  • If you remain outside the U.S., you can take all classes online. However, your SEVIS status will remain initial status. Refer to “Special Considerations” below.

Options for Teaching

  • If you are unable to travel to Ann Arbor, you will be able to teach remotely if the class allows. You will not need a visa, i-9, or Social Security Number (SSN) to teach from outside the U.S. 
  • If you have received a job offer, this cannot be rescinded. All contract protections still apply. Contact umgeo@3550.org if you have any concerns. 

Documents to Prepare

  • Teaching from outside the U.S. requires filing in some extra paperwork for tax and payroll. You must check in with your departmental administrator. 

Special Considerations

  • Your SEVIS status will remain in initial status until you enter the U.S., which will affect your eligibility of application for OPT/CPT. OPT/CPT are the programs that allow F1 students to work up to 12 month after completing their academic studies. These programs require a full-time basis for one academic year (i.e. two full consecutive terms) before applying. If you delay entering the U.S., even for just the Fall semester, you may be unable to work in the U.S. the following summer. We recommend you contact the International Center for the latest information as ICE may issue additional guidance. See also the section on SEVIS status information

You are outside of the U.S. and want to defer your acceptance

  • Your department will need to approve this request; you may be able to informally defer your admission, or they may ask you to file for a formal leave of absence. 
  • If you defer, your SEVIS status will remain in initial status until you enter the US, which will affect your eligibility of application for OPT/CPT. OPT/CPT are the programs that allow F1 students to work up to 12 month after completing their academic studies. These programs require a full-time basis for one academic year (i.e. two full consecutive terms) before applying. If you defer, even for just the Fall semester, you may be unable to work in the U.S. the following summer. We recommend you contact the International Center for the latest information as ICE may issue additional guidance. See also the section on SEVIS status information

More information on…

Entering the US

Preparing to Enter the US

Additional Documents to Prepare

In addition to your passport, visa, and I-20/DS-2019, there are some additional documents you should PRINT and carry with you since you will not be allowed to use your phone at the border crossing. Present them ONLY IF requested by a border agent. 

  • A letter from your department chair and, if possible, your advisor. This letter should make clear you are in good academic standing and explain why you have been outside of the U.S.
    • In case you have been doing research abroad, this letter should indicate that your advisor/chair is up to date with your academic activity.
    • If you do research that may be considered a security concern to the U.S. or the country you are traveling to, your letter should also explain your work clearly in ordinary language and you may want additional documentation.
  • Contact information for you department administrator, academic advisor, research advisor and employing department contact
    • Your UMID (if you have one)
    • Your admission letter and proof of your funding.
    • Latest copy of DHS guidelines (ICE FAQ as of Aug 7 2020).  Sometimes border agents are not familiar with the most recent policies. 
    • This letter describing U-M’s plans for Fall 2020. This demonstrates that the University will not be operating fully online in the fall.
    • If you are a new student, print your class schedule, clearly showing that you are not taking all online classes.
    • If you are a continuing student, a copy of your unofficial transcript showing your continuous enrollment and current enrollment for the term.  

At the Border

  • Present yourself simply and confidently. 
  • Do not present the additional documentation suggested above (beyond your passport, visa, I-20/DS-2019) until asked by a border agent. 
  • Only answer the question you are asked, no matter what stage of screening. Make sure any answers you give the border officers match the information on your documents.
  • Familiarize yourself with the conditions of your visa (especially work hours and online classes) so you can answer questions. 
  • Refusing to talk will most likely mean you will be denied entry; asking for a lawyer might have the same effect. 
  • You may want to consider adding a passcode to your phone (as opposed to thumbprint or facial recognition) and uninstalling sensitive apps on your phone while transiting the border as your phone and other belongings can be searched. 

Immigration Help at the Border 

During business hours: Call the International Center (734) 764-9310. The International Center has a on-call advisor who will respond immediately to calls from law enforcement.

After business hours: Call UM DPSS Department of Public Safety and Security) (734) 763-1131. UM DPSS has information to verify your identity and access to a 24/7 immigration lawyer (if needed, but this is very rare). 

Immigration officers will probably not let you make a phone call, so if they need contacts, share these numbers with them so that they can call the International Center or UM DPSS.

Payroll and Taxes

Getting Paid

If you have a U.S. bank account, you can continue to be paid as normal – either through direct deposit or via a check mailed to your U.S. address. 

  • If you will not be in the U.S. but want to be paid into a U.S. bank account, make sure you set up your direct deposit well in advance of the semester or soon after it begins to avoid any delays in processing. 

If you do not have a U.S. bank account, or wish to have your wages paid outside the U.S., you have the option to set a wire transfer through Western Union to a foreign institution. The University will not mail checks outside the U.S. 

  • Your department administrator will fill in a form with you and submit this to the payroll office. The University will not pay any transfer fees associated with this. 
  • If you are a returning student with direct deposit details in the system, you will need to inactivate this in Wolverine Access in order for Payroll to process a wire transfer. You can reactivate this when you return to campus.

Taxes

If you are working from outside the US, taxes will not be withheld on payments made to you as a GSI/GSSA/GSRA. The IRS may collect unpaid taxes after you arrive in the US, depending on your situation. You may have to pay taxes in your home country, depending on your situation.

Contact your department about forms to fill in regarding your tax status.

Important Forms

Immigration and Maintaining Status

  • Do not let your passport expire. It is OK if the visa stamp is in your expired passport; be sure to take both with you when you travel. 
  • Your I-20/DS-2019 is the most important document for entering/remaining in the US
  • Make sure you keep it in a safe place and apply for an extension well before it expires.  
  • Before you enter the country, make sure your travel signature on your I-20/DS-2019 is valid (i.e., no less than one year old.) If you need a new travel signature, contact the International Center.
  • If you will be arriving late due to visa issues or travel restrictions, check with your department and obtain a specific letter/authorization from your department. Without this official authorization, you won’t be able to enter the U.S. after the deadline on your I-20/DS-2019. 
  • Your F or J visa (the sticker in your passport) is an entry document; you do not need a valid F or J visa to remain in the U.S. 
  • For J-1 students, you may need to apply for a secondary site of operations, if you are in the US but not in Ann Arbor (or your normal work location). Contact the International Centre and your department administrator/faculty advisor for advice. 
  • Be sure to keep your address up-to-date in Wolverine Access: You must report any change of your current address (US residential address) and permanent address (home country residential address) within 10 days. Your U.S. address cannot be a PO Box or campus address, it must be residential (even if you are currently outside the US)

Employment

If you are teaching from within the U.S., you need to have a valid i-9 work authorisation. If you do not have an i-9 or it has expired, this must be completed prior to the start of the semester. i-9’s cannot be issued remotely, you can make an appointment here. Don’t forget to bring your I-20/DS-2019 to the appointment.

Teaching from outside the U.S. requires filing in some extra paperwork for tax and payroll. You must check in with your departmental administrator.

SEVIS Status and OPT/CPT Information

If you are a continuing student and taking all online courses outside of the U.S.

  • Your SEVIS record will remain active regardless of your location and type of courses. The five-months rule will not be applied.
  • If you are planning to apply for OPT/CPT while outside of the U.S, we recommend you contact the International Center as the guidance varies and ICE may be issuing additional guidance.

If you are an incoming student and taking all online courses outside of the U.S.

  • Your SEVIS status will remain in initial status until you enter the U.S. 
  • This will affect your eligibility of application for OPT/CPT. These programs require a full-time basis for one academic year (i.e. two full consecutive terms) before applying, and “initial status” does not count. We recommend you contact the International Center for the latest information as ICE may issue additional guidance. 

Some important terms

  • SEVIS: SEVIS is a web-based system for maintaining information on international nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors in the United States. Your SEVIS status is managed by the University and certifies that you are studying at UM. As a GSI, you can get the SEVIS fee, which you paid when you first applied for a visa, reimbursed by the University! More info here
  • OPT: OPT is temporary employment directly related to a student’s field of study. During OPT, a student remains in F-1 status. The end result of the OPT request process is an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS).” (Source: International Center)
  • CPT: CPT is employment which is an integral part of an established curriculum, including: “alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.” (Source: International Center)

Export Controls

Students working with sensitive information, or students working/studying in countries under security restrictions/US sanctions, should contact their Department to discuss security concerns around access to UM systems. For export controls concerns and information: U-M Export Controls Compliance Office at exportcontrols@umich.edu