What International Students Should Know Before Returning From Abroad This Summer

With the spring semester drawing to a close, some Penn State students are making plans to travel this summer, whether that be home or somewhere new.

For many students, this could just be taking a short drive to one of those small towns “just outside of Philly.” But for others, like international students, it’s a little more complicated than that.

With some original visa rules now back in place, vaccines rolling out around the world, and a slew of new travel rules, here are a few things international students should know before going home for the summer:

Travel Restrictions

Previously, due to the number of coronavirus cases, students from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, and Ireland could not enter directly the U.S. without completing a 14-day quarantine beforehand.

However, on April 26, 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken changed this restriction. Now, F-1 individuals — the majority of Penn State students — with valid visas are eligible for a National Interest Exemption (NIE), which permits them to enter the United States without the 14-day quarantine.

These students can enter the U.S. for classes beginning in August 2021 or after. They are eligible to enter no earlier than 30 days before classes begin. Penn State’s fall semester will start on August 23, and students are eligible to enter the country after July 24.

With (most) Penn State classes returning to in-person instruction this fall, Penn State suggests that students who are unable to return to University Park think about enrolling in Penn State World Campus, which offers online classes.

Maintaining Your Status

With the original visa rules back in place and Penn State returning to in-person instruction for fall 2021, international students will be required to enroll in person for fall 2021 in order to maintain an active SEVIS record (I-20).

To maintain active status, students must enroll full-time (minimum of 12 credits) with no more than three online credits counting toward full-time enrollment. Students will remain eligible for practical training with an active SEVIS record and full-time enrollment.

International students who are completing their studies in spring 2021, maintained full enrollment, whether that be inside or outside the United States, and kept an active SEVIS record may be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).

New students who haven’t entered the United States yet to attend Penn State but are planning on physically being present on campus for fall 2021 will need an I-20 with a start date in August 2021. To receive the documents, students should start planning as early as possible and work with Pre-Arrival Advisers to receive their documents.  

If students do not have an I-20 or DS-2019, they should request the document now through iStart by completing the INITIAL I-20 / DS-2019 REQUEST electronic form (eForm). For those who already have an I-20 or DS-2019 but the start date is not for the term they plan to be physically present in the U.S., they should request a new I-20 or DS-2019 now through iStart.

Health Requirements

Penn State Global Programs is encouraging all international students to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. All students in Pennsylvania, no matter what nationality or immigration status, are now eligible to receive vaccinations. 

Students should visit the PA Department of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Providers website to look for the nearest location. For students located outside of the United States, Penn State Global Programs encourages receiving a vaccination when and where available.

Travel Signature

Don’t forget to request the travel signature. International students need a valid re-entry travel signature on the I-20 to return to the U.S. after traveling abroad. The signature is valid for one year. The Directorate of International Student & Scholar Advising (DISSA) might ask for travel itineraries. Students can contact them if in need of specific advice.

For more information, check the Global Programs website or submit a question on I-Start.

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About the Author

Renata Daou

Renata is a junior majoring in International Politics and one of Onward State's contributors. She's from Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil and no, she doesn't live in the middle of the Amazon forest. She likes learning new languages, reading, writing, and talking about the one time she went bungee jumping.
Follow her on Twitter @renatadaou to see her rant in Portenglish or e-mail her at [email protected] for serious inquires.

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