NAFSA has assembled these resource links to help you navigate issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
ICE and SEVP
Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) COVID-19 guidance and FAQs for F-1 and M-1 schools.
Department of State COVID-19 guidance and FAQs for J-1 Exchange Visitor Program sponsors and participants.
Latest COVID-19-Related Updates
Looking for non-COVID-19-related immigration news? Go to the Adviser's Manual 360 Home Page.
DOS Reduces Number of Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisories. The State Department has adjusted its travel advisories to reflect new CDC guidance for institutions of higher education. As of June 8, 2021, 58 countries and territories-including popular study abroad destinations France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, and Japan-were moved out of the Level 4: Do Not Travel category and are now designated as Level 3: Reconsider Travel. Visit the DOS website for the latest Travel Advisory levels.
CBP Extends Canada-Mexico Land Port of Entry Restrictions Through June 21, 2021. On May 24, 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) extended through June 21, 2021 the COVID-19 entry restrictions that that allow entry through land ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada and U.S. Mexico borders for "essential travel" only.
Education Department Updates HEERF Policy To Allow Grants for Undocumented and International Students. On May 11, 2021, the Department of Education (DoEd) released an updated set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III (HEERF III) grants under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Notably, the FAQs reverse a narrow position that had been taken by DoEd under the former Trump administration, and the policy now allows "Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, other DREAMers, and similar undocumented students" as well as "international students" to receive HREEF grants.
NAFSA Letter to SEVP on 2021-2022 Academic Year COVID-19 Guidance. On May 6, 2021, NAFSA Executive Director and CEO sent a letter to SEVP Director Rachel Canty, to thank SEVP for its April 26, 2021 COVID-19 guidance for the 2021-2022 academic year, and suggesting "additional clarifications to further help schools and students operate responsibly and and responsively during this year of transition," the "overarching recommendation is to provide schools greater flexibility to operate as international, national, state, and local saftey considerations allow." NAFSA asks SEVP to:
Clarify the procedures and implications for a school that returns to "normal operations"
Eliminate the 12-month validity of paid SEVIS fees
Consider the longer-term realities of the pandemic by eliminating the March 9, 2020 date in the guidance and considering the scope of SEVP flexibilities and processes, such as: accommodating transfer and change of level students who are outside the United States, streamlining data fix processes to facilitate students' timely return to the United States, and cooperating with USCIS to develop a policy that allows a student to apply for OPT from outside the United States
- NAFSA Letter to Secretary Blinken on National Interest Exceptions. On May 5, 2021, NAFSA sent a letter to DOS Secretary Antony Blinken thanking the agency for its April 26 and April 30 announcements extending eligibility to international students and exchange visitors for national interest exception waivers from the countries currently covered by COVID-19 travel restrictions, but asking that DOS remove reference to an August 1, 2021 “condition” in the NIE policy.
- EVP Email Updates Programs on Revised FAQs and National Interest Exceptions. On May 5, 2021, the Office of Private Sector Exchange emailed exchange visitor program sponsors a message titled 2021 FAQs Update Broadcast.
- Biden Signs India COVID-19 Entry Proclamation. On April 30, 2021, President Biden signed a proclamation effective May 4, 2021, which bars entry of travelers coming from India in a way similar to the previous geographic COVID-19 proclamations. Later the same day, the Department of State included India in its National Interest Exception (NIE) policies.
- DOS Expands NIE Policy to all Countries Subject to Geographic COVID Entry Bans. On April 26, 2021, DOS updated its National Interest Exception (NIE) page to expand certain NIE eligibilities to China, Iran, Brazil, and South Africa, in addition to the Schengen Area countries, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.
- April 26, 2026 Update Continues SEVP's March 2020 Guidance for the 2021-22 Acadmic Year. "SEVP will continue to abide by guidance originally issued in March 2020 for the 2021-22 academic year and did not make any changes to the March 2020 guidance."
- Read NAFSA's response to the increase in the number of countries listed with a Level 4: Do Not Travel warning, which DOS announced in an April 19, 2021 Travel Advisory Update.
- DOS Announces Blanket National Interest Exceptions for Immigrant Visas. On April 8, 2021, DOS announced a blanket National Interest Exception (NIE) to all geographic COVID-19 proclamations for immigrant visas. "Immigrant Visa processing posts may now grant immigrant and fiancé(e) visas to applicants otherwise eligible, notwithstanding these proclamations." Other blanket NIE measures cover additional, narrowly tailored groups.
- DOS Working on Visa Interview Backlog. DOS updated its "resumption of routine visa services" message on April 6, 2021, with messaging that focuses on the challenges of reopening and reduced appointment capacity that have created a "significant backlog of both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applications awaiting a visa interview... The State Department is working to reduce this backlog while ensuring the safety of our staff and applicants and protecting our national security." The DOS page also contains several FAQs. The first FAQ on that page states that, "after meeting demand for services to U.S. citizens... Posts processing nonimmigrant visa applications will continue to prioritize travelers with urgent travel needs, foreign diplomats, and certain mission critical categories of travelers such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the pandemic, followed by students and exchange visitors (F-1, M-1, and J-1) and temporary employment visas."
- Proclamation 10052 Expires as of March 31, 2021. April 2, 2021. The Department of State confirmed that former President Trump's Proclamation 10052 expired on March 31, 2021. As of April 1, 2021, President Biden had not renewed or replaced it. The proclamation had suspended entry of certain H, J, and L nonimmigrants.
- USCIS Extends COVID-19 RFE Response Flexibility until June 30, 2021. March 24, 2021. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) extended until June 30, 2021 the COVID-19 flexibilities it established for responses to Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and other similar response-based notices and requests, and filing date requirements for filing Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion.
- DOS Expands Visa Interview Waiver Policy to 48 Months, Through December 31, 2021. March 11, 2021. The Department of State (DOS) announced a temporary expansion of statutory and regulatory provisions that allow consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying to renew a visa in the same nonimmigrant visa classification and category if not more than 48 months have passed since the prior visa expired. The expansion of this authority lasts until December 31, 2021.
- DOS EVP Updates COVID-19 FAQs. March 1, 2021. BridgeUSA (the Department of State Exchange Visitor Program) updated its COVID-19 FAQs. This revision replaces the prior set of FAQs that had been updated over time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. NAFSA has transcribed both the prior and current FAQs.
- DOS Reissues Schengen/UK/Ireland NIE Guidance. The March 2, 2021 version of the DOS National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland page retains the same wording of prior versions to continue the "blanket" national interest exception (NIE) determination for F-1 and M-1 students traveling from those countries. The policy also continues to require "academics, J-1 students, and journalists" to individually apply for an NIE exception.
- Proclamation of February 24, 2021: A Proclamation on Revoking Proclamation 10014. President Biden's Proclamation of February 24, 2021 revoked former President Trump's Proclamation 10014 and the proclamations that extended it, effective February 24, 2021. Proclamation 10014 had suspended and limited entry into the United States of many classes of immigrants.
- ICE announces extension to I-9 compliance flexibility. February 12, 2021. On January 27, 2021, ICE announced "an extension of the flexibilities in rules related to Form I-9 compliance that was granted earlier this year. Due to the continued precautions related to COVID-19, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will extend this policy until March 31, 2021."
- CBC Announces Compliance with Presidential Executive Order Requiring Face Masks at Ports of Entry. February 4, 2021. "Effective Feb. 2, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is enforcing the requirement that travelers wear face masks at all air, land and sea ports of entry in the United States in accordance with President Biden's Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Order Regarding the Requirement for Persons to Wear Masks While on Public Conveyances and at Transportation Hubs."
- Proclamation Continues Schengen, UK, Ireland, Brazil, China and Iran COVID Restrictions and Adds South Africa. A January 25, 2021 Proclamation by President Biden continues the 14-day U.S. entry restrictions on individuals who were recently present in the Schengen Area, UK, Ireland, Brazil, China or Iran, and adds South Africa to the list of countries.
- Executive Order on Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel. January 21, 2021. Executive Order. Directs relevant agencies to incorporate, to the extent feasible, CDC recommendations on public modes of transportation and at ports of entry to the United States, including recommendations such as mask-wearing, physical distancing, appropriate ventilation, timely testing, and possibly self-quarantine after U.S. entry.
- COVID Viral Tests Required for Boarding All U.S.-Bound Flights Effective January 26, 2021. (January 13, 2021)
- H, J, L Entry Ban Extended Until March 31, 2021. On December 31, 2020, President Trump extended Proclamation 10052 until March 31, 2021. It had been set to expire on December 31, 2020. Proclamation 10052 suspends entry of certain H, J, and L nonimmigrants because of the Trump administration's assertion that their entry "presents a significant threat to employment opportunities for Americans affected by the extraordinary economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak."
- USCIS Provides Application Support Center Appointment Updates. (December 29, 2020)
- NAFSA and Others Ask SEVP to Issue Flexible Guidance for Spring 2021. (December 4, 2020) NAFSA signed on to a multi-association letter led by the American Council on Education (ACE), asking SEVP to issue COVID-19 guidance for the Spring 2021 term "as soon as possible," and to provide for "maximum flexibility." SEVP ended up telling schools to continue to use the Spring 2020/Fall 2020 guidance for the Spring.
- DHS and TSA Terminate Designated COVID-19 Airport Restrictions Effective September 14. (September 11, 2020) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will publish notices in the Federal Register that terminate COVID-19 designated arrival airport restrictions, effective September 14, 2020 at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The restrictions had required all flights to land at one of 15 designated U.S. airports if they carried persons who within the last 14 days traveled from, or were otherwise present within, one of the countries designated in the five country-specific Presidential Proclamation coronavirus bans. The country-specific coronavirus proclamations themselves remain in place, however, subject to specific exemptions.
- USCIS Allows Limited Temporary Use of I-797 Approval Notices Due to COVID-19 EAD Production Delays. (August 19, 2020) USCIS posted a notice on its I-9 Central site, authorizing the temporary use of an I-797 EAD approval notice (not a receipt notice) as a List C # 7 document that establishes employment authorization (but not identity) for I-9 purposes. To qualify, the I-797 approval notice must have "a Notice date on or after December 1, 2019 through and including August 20, 2020." I-797 approval notices with Notice dates outside this range will not qualify. Employers who use this flexibility will have to reverify the employee on Form I-9 with the actual EAD (or suitable other combination of documents) by December 1, 2020.
- Resource on SEVP Fall 2020 COVID-19 Guidance. (August 18, 2020) NAFSA and the Student Subcommittee of NAFSA's Committee on International Student and Scholar Regulatory Practice (ISS RP) have developed a scenario-based resource on what's clear and unclear about SEVP's COVID-19 guidance and "clarifying" FAQs.
- NAFSA Signs on to Letter to DHS and DOS in Support of Hybrid Programs. (August 12, 2020) On August 12, 2020 NAFSA co-signed a letter coordinated by the American Council on Education (ACE) and also co-signed by the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) to urge the Departments of State and Homeland Security to work together to ensure new and returning international students enrolled in hybrid academic programs at U.S. institutions are able to have their visas processed and enter the country.
- Updates on Visa Processing