The Questions International Students are Asking… How the Coronavirus Pandemic is Affecting Student Visas, Pass/Fail Classes, and Working Remotely

The Questions International Students are Asking…   How the Coronavirus Pandemic is Affecting Student Visas, Pass/Fail Classes, and Working Remotely
Closeup detail of a US visa document.

How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting my student visa and travel?

pandemic affects student visa and travel

Colleges and universities are working daily to determine how they will handle this situation best for their faculties and students.  The same is happening with national agencies – including those that handle student visas.  The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are still coming out with decisions on all the pressing issues facing international students. 

Click here to see how USCIS is responding to the crisis.  Currently, no visas are being given in all consulates around the world for travel to the United States.  Interviews for people looking to come here are being cancelled with no rescheduled date. 

SEVP has shown flexibility and support during this time.  They are working hard to keep exchange visitors as active as they can, temporarily delaying start dates for incoming exchange visitors, and allowing students to continue their coursework online – either in the United States or abroad.  New initial students who have not come to the United States yet, should stay home.  For additional information from SEVP, click here for their FAQ page in response to the pandemic. 

The federal government has issued certain orders, such as limitations on travel at the Canada and Mexico borders.  Attending school and/or going to work are considered essential travel and therefore are not considered under the travel restrictions at these borders. (Source: NAFSA). 

What does it mean to “Pass/Fail” a class?

While the coronavirus pandemic has caused colleges and universities across the country to move classes online, many have also offered students to opt for a “Pass/Fail” option.  If your school is offering this option, it is important to understand what it means, as well as have a conversation about it with your professors and advisors either by email or video call. 

Typically, at the end of a class, all students receive a numerical value that translates to a letter grade, all calculated into a grade point average (GPA).  With the disruption of in person classes, colleges and universities are offering an alternative.  To have a pass/fail option for a class means you will not receive a letter grade for the class.  You will either receive a “P” for passing or an “F” for failing.  This determination depends on your school.  Some schools require what would typically be a C- (usually a 69.5 average in the class) and above to count as a Pass.  Other schools may have it set at a D- or better to pass the class. 

The important distinction that comes with the Pass/Fail option is that it does not get calculated into your GPA.  If you pass the class, a “P” will appear on your transcript and you will get credit for completing the class.  If you do not pass, an “F” will appear on your transcript and you will not receive credit for the course.  It is important to talk to your professor throughout the semester as you decide what you are going to do with your classes.  If you do decide to go with the Pass/Fail option, fill out the form provided by your school.  Be aware of your school’s deadline, as well as where to submit the paperwork.


Stay Connected.  ISO is here to help you stay updated on the newest information in international student community.  Your wellbeing continues to be our main concern.  Continue to stay home and be safe and call us if you have any questions about our plans or your coverage.   

Am I still able to work for my on-campus job?

With students moving off campuses and classes being transitioned to online, many cannot continue their on-campus employment positions, like in the library or dining hall. 

What is more likely to be possible working remotely are Research or Teaching Assistants.  If you are in this position, be sure to communicate with the professor you work alongside, as your school would have to inform SEVP that you are continuing to work with classes remotely.  (Source: NAFSA).

Am I still able to apply to OPT?

OPT is a great opportunity for students to continue their stay in the United States after graduation, while working and making money to pay back any student debt they may have accumulated. 

With temporary closures of the agency offices that file for OPT, it is assumed that the process will be taking longer than normal for OPT applications.  USCIS still have yet to outline the specific guidelines for how this pandemic is affecting OPT, as well.  

If you are graduating in May and do not yet have a job offer but wish to stay in the U.S., then you are encouraged to continue looking for a job and file your application for OPT.  Remember that if necessary, a student can volunteer to maintain a position and maintain status.

Since most schools required students to move off campus, it is possible for many senior international students to be back in their home country.  If this is the case, you may need to apply for OPT from abroad.  Again, USCIS has yet to figure out and announce how they plan to make accommodations for these students throughout their application process.  (Source: NAFSA). 

I am on OPT and have lost my job. Do I need to leave the U.S.?

We are still waiting to hear final ruling from USCIS on what unemployment will look like during this time for international students on OPT.  What college administrators are hoping will happen is an extension to the 90-day unemployment rule.  Regardless of what happens, it is important to remember that 20 hours a week of volunteering in your field of study counts towards maintaining regular OPT status. As states continue to issue stay-at-home orders, it will continue to get harder to find places to work or volunteer.  Continue to stay updated with what USCIS decides in the coming days.

I am on OPT and have been furloughed. Now what?

If you were on OPT and working in your field when this pandemic struck, you may have been furloughed.  This means your employer has placed you on a temporary leave of employment.  Furloughing employees is a right of an employer in response to economic conditions. Employees can be placed on furlough for up to one year.  Again, it is important to stay updated with announcements from USCIS to see how they will address these growing concerns for international students. 



COVID-19 Crisis: How International & Immigrant Populations in Higher Education are Impacted, What Campus Leaders Need to Know.  The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. March 27th, 2020. 

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