Although the US has announced that all college programs in the new academic year, Fall 2021 will be conducted in person, there still remains the question of the ongoing pandemic, its related travel restrictions and mandatory vaccination requirements. How are international students expected to cope and manage the various components of international travel as new rules are constantly emerging?
Below are the most pertinent Covid-19 related questions answered for international students coming into the US in the Fall 2021.
Can I still get an F1 student visa if my home country is on the travel ban list?
Yes, you can get a F1 student visa even if your home country is on the US travel ban list. Although, most US consulates are functioning only for limited hours, they have opened up additional visa appointment slots for student visas.
As an international student, am I eligible for NIE?
A National Interest Exception (NIE) is granted to those who are exempted from the travel ban. Per the latest guidelines surrounding the travel restrictions, if an international student is eligible for an F1 student visa, he or she doesn’t have to apply for an NIE. International students with a valid visa may enter the US without requiring an NIE.
Do I need to get vaccinated before coming to campus in the US? Is Covid vaccine mandatory for an international student?
Most US colleges, universities and academic institutions are requiring that international students above the age of 12 be vaccinated before joining their in-person classes Fall 2021. International students, until they receive their vaccines, have to get periodic testing done and submit the results of the RT-PCR test results to the school health clinic.
If the international student is not vaccinated before joining in-person classes, they have the option of getting the Covid vaccine here in the US upon arrival. However, they have to undergo two-weeks of mandatory quarantine before they can join classes.
Check out Vaccines.gov for locations that are offering the vaccine.
Certain exceptions may be granted based on health or religious reasons.
I was vaccinated with a Covid -19 vaccination in my home country – Will my vaccine be accepted in the US?
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the following vaccinations. All international students should be vaccinated with any of the below options to qualify as completely vaccinated.
- Johnson & Johnson/Janssen
Additionally, the following vaccines that are authorized for “Emergency Use Listing” (EUL) by the World Health Organization (WHO) is also included:
Do I need to get tested or quarantine on arrival as an international student?
If you haven’t completed the mandatory 2-dose series of Covid -19 vaccines before arriving to the United States, you will be asked to quarantine for 2 weeks on arrival. And then you will have to take the vaccine in the US as most colleges require international students over the age of 12 to be vaccinated before starting school in Fall 2021. Most campuses are offering the Covid-19 vaccine free of cost.
Can I get vaccinated in the US or in my college campus? Are international students eligible to get a WHO approved vaccine in the US?
Yes, you can get the Covid-19 vaccine free of cost at most health clinics, vaccination drives and college health centers.
What are the first steps on arriving in the US as an international student?
Within a couple of days of arrival into the United States, check in with the international student center in your school and/or your DSO. Be prepared to submit a copy (normally online) of the following documents –
- I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) form
- SEVIS fee receipt
- I-94 arrival record created when you entered the United States
- Local address (where you are currently living, not a P.O. box)
- Individual assigned student ID
- Proof Vaccination Record
Do I need to wear a mask when I am in the US college campus?
Face coverings or masks are required in all indoor spaces on campus for students, faculty, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, unless you are actively eating or drinking.
While masks or face coverings are not currently required in outdoor spaces for vaccinated individuals, they are highly encouraged.
If I don’t get my F1 student visa on time before classes start, can I join classes online?
Majority of schools in the US are offering in-person classes Only. Please contact your DSO or school counselor to confirm the mode of teaching for each individual class.
If you are unable to get your F1, J or M visa in time for Fall 2021 semester, you could be asked to defer your admission to the next semester and join classes then.
Change of status: If I am on another non-immigrant visa status, do I have to travel back to my home country to get my F1 student visa stamped?
In most cases, a change of visa status requires you to get your new visa stamped in your home country before you join classes. You are advised to contact an immigration lawyer to clarify next steps.