Dear students and exchange visitors,
We are writing to provide you with an update on the travel National Interest Exception (NIE) for students and exchange visitors located in Brazil, China, India, Iran, and South Africa, Schengen Area of Europe, the UK, and Ireland. The national interest exception announcement has been updated on the Department of State website to include language about traveling dependents and OPT participants and can be found here. Please note that although the announcement does not list India, a separate Department of State announcement confirms that India is included among the NIE eligible countries for academic travel, falling under the same conditions as individuals located in Brazil, China, Iran, and South Africa.
The announcement language is still ambiguous, but we have now had the opportunity to experience how the U.S. embassy is interpreting the NIE process. Based on the latest information, we are providing you with the current ISSS interpretation of the NIE announcement and recommendations for travelers. If this interpretation changes, we will update you.
Students and Exchange Visitors located in Brazil, China, India, Iran, and South Africa
- Students coming to the U.S. to begin or continue studies with a new initial I-20 or DS-2019 are eligible to travel under the NIE if the program start date listed your form is August 1, 2021, or later. The earliest you may enter the U.S. is 30 days before your program start date. Students do not need to worry if remarks on your I-20 refer to prior study in your home country, as this does not disqualify you from the NIE. The I-20 form just needs to list the program start date after 8/1/21. Remember to report your intent to study in-person at UConn, by completing the Fall 2021 Study Plan form.
- If you are a continuing student who departed the U.S., you have maintained your full-time student status and active SEVIS status, and your I-20 form or DS-2019 form has your original program start date (in the past), you also qualify to travel under the NIE to resume studies. However, it will be less apparent to the airline, consular officials, or border officials that you are returning to resume studies that begin after August 1. Therefore, ISSS will issue new I-20 forms next week for active students with Brazil, China, India, Iran or South Africa citizenship, who we know to be outside the United States, and who have active I-20 forms listing program start dates in the past. You will receive an email early next week confirming that we have issued your new I-20 form. The new form will have comments regarding your return to the U.S. to resume studies that begin August 30 and will include an updated travel signature. Continuing students should travel to the U.S. under the NIE no earlier than 30 days before the semester begins (July 31 at the earliest). If you are renewing your visa, you should clearly present yourself as a continuing student at your visa appointment, present proof of your full time enrollment while outside the U.S., and contact ISSS if you are told to bring a new I-20 with an updated program start date. Continuing students must report their intent to return to UConn from abroad, or to travel abroad this summer and return for fall, by completing the Fall 2021 Study Plan, option 2. This submission will also prompt ISSS to issue a new form with travel signature for those students who are not automatically issued the updated form for travel next week.
- If you are on OPT: if you are outside the U.S. and located in one of these countries, we interpret this announcement to mean that you may travel under the NIE to return for work on OPT that begins after August 1. We also recommend that students on OPT with valid U.S. visas email the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to them, to confirm their eligibility to travel and resume OPT work under the NIE, if the OPT period began before August 1. Remember to report all new employment to ISSS by completing an OPT Employment Update record. When traveling, we suggest that you carry a letter confirming that you are returning to start work that begins after 8/1, or if you are already actively employed, that you are returning to resume work in the United States after 8/1. Students on OPT complete the Travel Information Record to report travel dates and request a travel signature.
- Visiting scholars: If you are a new visiting scholar located in Brazil, China, India, Iran or South Africa, your program start date listed on your Form DS-2019 must be August 1 or later to be considered for travel under the NIE. If you are a current or continuing visiting scholar who has a program start date before August 1, please reach out to ISSS for advice on return travel under the NIE.
- F-1 visa holders: If you apply for a visa, you will be considered for the NIE and if your visa is approved, the NIE will be noted on your visa. Continuing students who need to renew the visa should present themselves as a continuing student and bring proof of your full-time enrollment while at UConn, if your I-20 form lists a start date before 8/1/2021. If you have a valid F-1 visa you do not need permission from the U.S. embassy to travel under the NIE (you are automatically eligible), but you are still subject to the date restrictions already noted.
- J-1 visa holders: If you apply for a visa, you will be considered for the NIE and if your visa is approved, the NIE will be noted on your visa. If you already have a valid J-1 visa for your program at UConn, you must email the U.S. Embassy or Consulate 30 days before you plan to travel and request the national interest exception for travel. Send a copy of your J-1 visa and your DS-2019 form with your request. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate will send you an email with the NIE approval, if granted, that is valid for travel for 30 days.
Students and Exchange Visitors located in Schengen Area of Europe, Ireland, United Kingdom
- Academic travelers (students, exchange students and visiting scholars), also qualify for a National Interest Exception to travel to the U.S. but are not subject to the same 8/1 date restriction as other travelers. If you are a new student coming to the U.S. on an I-20 issued for initial attendance, you may enter under the NIE up to 30 days before the program start date. Your I-20 even lists an “Earliest Entry Date” that you may refer to. If you are coming to the U.S. to begin a new J-1 exchange program as a student or visiting scholar, you may also enter up to 30 days before the program start date listed on your form. Continuing students and exchange visitors may enter at any time to resume your F or J program, but J-1 visa holders must have written approval of the NIE if they already have a valid visa for their program at UConn, and F-1 visa holders do not (see process below).
- F-1 visa holders: If you apply for a visa, you will be considered for the NIE and if your visa is approved, the NIE will be noted on your visa. If you have a valid F-1 visa and you will use this to travel, you do not need permission from the U.S. embassy to travel under the NIE, it is automatic, but you are still subject to the date restrictions already noted.
- J-1 visa holders: If you apply for a visa, you will be considered for the NIE and if your visa is approved, the NIE will be noted on your visa. If you already have a valid J-1 visa for your program at UConn, you must email the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate 30 days before you plan to travel and request the national interest exception for travel. Send a copy of your J-1 visa stamp and DS-2019 with the request. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate will send you an email with the NIE approval, if granted, that is valid for travel for 30 days.
Visa validity: Many students have asked if they can use their unexpired visa for travel after an extended stay abroad. Generally, an unexpired visa in the correct classification (e.g., F-1, J-1) has been considered valid for use unless it has been cancelled by the Department of State. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program addressed this topic on the Study in the States website in 2017. However, ISSS recommends that students who enter the U.S. on an initial attendance I-20 form to attend UConn obtain a new visa if the current visa does not list UConn as the school of attendance. Also, out of an abundance of caution, students may consider applying for a new visa if they have had a break in studies of more than 5 months. Finally, we advise J-1 exchange visitors to use the visa that was issued specifically for their exchange program at UConn.
Where to find your immigration documents in the ISSS Portal:
F-1/J-1 Students: Visit isssportal.uconn.edu and click “Log In”. Students should log in with your NetID and password. From your user home page, click on your “Academic Objective” on the left-hand side. Your Academic Objective will be listed under the semester and year that you started, or will start, your program in the U.S. (it matches your I-20 or DS-2019 start term). Scroll down to “Attached Documents”. You can see copies of all the documents issued by ISSS in your academic objective within 1 week after we have processed your update.
J-1 Visiting Scholars: Visit the UConn Scholar/Employee Portal. Log in with your email and Scholar Portal password (NOT your UConn NetID). Click on the “Documents” tab on the top of the page. Click on “Other” on the left-hand side. You can see copies of all the documents issued by ISSS in the SEVIS Profile within 1 week after we have processed your update.
Report your Fall 2021 Study Plan: If you have not already done so, ISSS is requesting that all active students (not visiting scholars or OPT participants) tell ISSS your intended plans for fall 2021 semester, here. Please submit your intended plans by June 15. If your plans change after submitting the form, resubmit the form (even after June 15). This information helps us to advise you and to plan for fall semester.
ISSS COVID-19 FAQ: The ISSS COVID-19 FAQ answers many of your questions, and we suggest that you review it periodically to see if new information has been posted.
Get help: You can 1) email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, 2) schedule a virtual appointment with your ISSS advisor, or 3) visit the ISSS website daily between 9 and 10 am, and 2 and 3 pm (UConn time) to speak to an advisor through the chat option. The ISSS office in Storrs is also open Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 9 am to 4 pm (closed for lunch between 12 and 1 pm) for basic assistance, though individual advising services still take place virtually.
We thank you for your patience while we all navigate this complex situation, and please let us know if you have any questions.