HIO Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ

For department administrators at Harvard with questions for incoming or current international scholars or student interns, please see the HIO Administrator FAQ.

COVID-19 Visa Issuance and Travel Updates

Students and scholars currently outside of the U.S. may be subject to various travel restrictions that make returning to or arriving in the U.S. difficult at this time. Please read below for more information:

Routine Visa Issuance Temporarily Suspended
Any incoming students and scholars currently outside of the U.S., or continuing students and scholars with expired U.S. visa stamps, should be aware that routine visa issuance has been temporarily suspended at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. All incoming students and scholars currently outside of the U.S. require a visa stamp issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country in order to enter the U.S. with, except for Canadian citizens. You may read more about this temporary suspension here.

Presidential Proclamations Suspending Travel
There are several Presidential Proclamations suspending the entry of individuals from various countries and regions throughout the world. You may read more about these proclamations, including who is subject to the suspension, here.

Travel from Canada and Mexico
Currently the land borders between the United States and Canada, and the United States and Mexico are closed for nonessential travel.  Students and scholars planning to enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico are encouraged to speak directly with their HIO advisor regarding their travel plans and best practices for returning to the U.S. before finalizing arrangements.

General Concerns/Questions

Q. Is the HIO open?
A. The HIO is closed to walk-in advising and in-person appointments until further notice. All HIO staff and advisors are working remotely, and will be available via telephone and email, or for appointments via skype or zoom. Please contact your HIO Advisor directly with any questions or concerns. We will continue to send out updates and provide the most up-to-date information on our web site.  It is essential that you read any emails you receive from the University.

Q. How do I get a new travel signature, if my travel signature on my I-20 or DS-2019 will be expiring?
A. At the moment, the only option available for the HIO to get new documents to students or scholars is via FedEx. If you need a new I-20 or DS-2019 immediately, please follow the steps to purchase a FedEx label using eShipGlobal. If you leave the U.S. soon and will not return to the U.S. until the fall, or are not in need of a new travel signature immediately, you can wait until the HIO resumes normal in person walk in services.

Q. I heard that U.S. Embassies and Consulates are no longer issuing visas worldwide. When will this resume?
A. In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State has temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and Consulates have cancelled appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, Embassies and Consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. Embassies and Consulates will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

Student Issues


Q. If a student leaves the U.S., or is currently outside the U.S., and wants to return, will they be able to do so?
A. You should contact your HIO advisor to discuss your situation.

Q. What if I go to my home country, on-campus classes resume, and then I can’t get back to the U.S.?
A. As you will be maintaining your student visa status while taking your full-time on-line classes, you should be able to reenter the U.S. once the various travel bans are lifted. The situation relating to COVID 19 is constantly changing so this information may change with very little advance notice.

Q. Instead of traveling back to my home country, may I go elsewhere in the U.S.?
A. For at least the spring term and summer, yes, as long as you maintain your student visa status while taking your full-time on-line classes, you can go somewhere else in the U.S.  You must provide the address where you are residing using the HIO change of address form.

Q. I am required to leave campus.  If I depart the US and my visa has expired how do I obtain a new visa to return to campus for the fall?  Should I anticipate any problem?
A. You should contact your HIO advisor to discuss your situation.


Q. Can I apply for OPT outside the U.S.?
A. You must be physically present in the U.S. at the time you apply for OPT.  You can leave the U.S. while the application is pending.  You must provide a mailing address in the U.S. where USCIS can send any correspondence related to your application.  It is essential that this address be valid for 3-5 months and the person receiving the mail must be at that address to receive the mail and forward it to you.

Q. If I am in the U.S., can I submit my OPT or AT application to the HIO remotely?
A. Yes.  You can scan and email your application to your HIO advisor and pay the maintenance fee via Touchnet.  You must be in the U.S. in F-1 status, however, to submit the application to USCIS. You can submit your AT application via email even if you are not physically in the U.S.

Q. I used my friend’s address to have USCIS mail my EAD and now they are leaving campus/their apartment. What should I do?
A. You cannot use an international address.  You should locate another recipient within the U.S. Then you must update your mailing address with USCIS.

Q. I applied for OPT already.  Will I have a problem if I re-enter the U.S. before graduation?
A. You should not have a problem reentering the U.S. before graduation since your Form I-20 will still be valid.  Remember you must have all the required documents when reentering the U.S.  If you want to re-enter the U.S. after graduation, you must have your EAD, OPT approval from USCIS. A student who has graduated may not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. if the OPT application is still pending at USCIS.

Q. Can I still apply for CPT from outside the U.S.?
A. Yes.

Q. If I leave the U.S. for the rest of the semester, can I still apply for post-completion academic training from abroad?
A. Yes.  You can find information on applying for academic training on our website.  You must have a job offer and submit your application to the HIO within 30 days of graduation to qualify.

Q. Will USCIS processing times for OPT be affected by Coronavirus closings?
A. At this time we have no way of knowing what might be affected as this situation is constantly evolving.

Visa compliance

Q. Will online Spring 2020 courses affect my visa status?
A. We have received government guidance that they intend to be flexible with temporary adaptations to classes for the Spring 2020 semseter.  Provided international students continue to make normal progress in a full course of study as required by federal regulations, students’ legal immigration status should not be affected. Also note, if you remained in the U.S. and are working on campus, employment is still limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session.

Q. Can international TAs on J-1 visas remain in their home country to teach/perform their duties remotely, or do they need to be physically present on campus in order to maintain their J-1 status?
A. Any J-1 student who continues to maintain their full-time student status at Harvard will be considered to maintain their valid J-1 visa status even if they are not physically in the U.S. during COVID 19.

SSA / Taxes

Q. Can I file my U.S. taxes outside the country?
A. Yes, you can use Sprintax, print and sign the forms, and mail them.

Q. When are taxes due for 2019?
A. The deadline to file federal taxes for 2019 has been extended to July 15, 2020. Please review the Internal Revenue Service announcement for details. The deadline for filing Massachusetts state taxes has also been extended to July 15, 2020.

Q. What do I do if I need to apply for a Social Security Number?
A. All local Social Security offices are closed to the public for in-person service. You may refer to their COVID-19 web page to learn more, including how to get help from the Social Security Administration (SSA) by phone and online.  If you need to apply for an SSN you must wait until they resume in-person services.

Scholar Issues

Q. I have been invited to start a program at Harvard soon.  Should I still come?
A. You should reach out to the department that invited you for more guidance.

Q. Should I come to the HIO to register?
A. You may provide your HIO Advisor with a scanned copy of the Harvard International Office Registration Form as well as the scan of your I-94 record, scan of visa stamp, and scan of entry stamp so that we can complete your registration and activate your SEVIS record in accordance with U.S. visa and immigration regulations.  If you plan to travel outside of the U.S., please contact your HIO Advisor to coordinate obtaining a travel signature on your DS-2019.

Q. If a scholar chooses to go home to wait out the virus, can their J-1 status remain valid?
A. Any scholar planning to leave the U.S. to wait out the virus should contact their HIO advisor for further information.

Q. Should I update the HIO if I am now working remotely within the U.S.?
A. If you are on a J visa and have remained in the U.S., but are not living at the same address where you were living before the University instituted remote teaching, you must provide the address where you are currently living using the HIO change of address form. All other immigration categories, including those on H-1B, TN, O-1, E-3 and U.S. Permanent Residence must submit Form AR-11 to USCIS. Follow the instructions on the form for submission. Once complete, please send a copy of your completed Form AR-11 to the HIO via email so we may update your record in our system.