Spring 2021 COVID-19 Updates

Last updated 3/26/2021


Jump to information about: F-1 Enrollment Requirements | J-1 Enrollment Requirements | Travel Documentation | Visa Process | Travel Restrictions to the U.S. | Self Quarantine | Additional Resources


Winter Session

Credits taken during Iowa State University's winter session will count toward enrollment for Spring 2021. For example, if you take 4 credits during the winter session and 10 credits during the spring semester, your total enrollment for Spring 2021 will be 14 credits. 


F-1 Enrollment Requirements

Continuing F-1 Students: A student who was in the United States in an active F-1 status on their current SEVIS record and ID number at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 are allowed to enroll in entirely online coursework for Spring 2021, from either inside or outside of the United States. This includes most transfer students who have been enrolled full-time since March 2020, so long as you still have the same SEVIS ID number from your previous program.


Continuing Students Who Arrived in U.S. After March 2020: Students who began their current F-1 status by arriving in the United States after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020, should maintain enrollment in at least one course with an in-person component (either “on-site” or “hybrid” course delivery) for the Spring 2021 semester.


Initial Students: Initial students who are not yet in an F-1 status and coming to the United States on a new SEVIS record must have at least one in-person component (“on-site” or “hybrid” course delivery) for Spring 2021. Providing documentation of this in-person component may be required to enter the United States.

For graduate students on assistantship, your department determines full-time enrollment, but we encourage you to work with your department to have at least one in-person component. Research credits meet the in-person course requirement.

Please refer to the ISSO email from December 17th for more information for initial students.


Initial Students Studying Outside the U.S.: Initial students that plan to study solely online for Spring 2021 should remain outside of the United States, and contact ISSO to defer their I-20s.


Returning Students: Returning students who have previously studied at ISU, had their previous F-1 status ended, and are now returning to ISU on a new SEVIS record are viewed the same as an Initial student and must have at least one in-person component (“on-site” or “hybrid” course delivery) for Spring 2021. Providing documentation of this in-person component may be required to enter the United States. Please refer to the ISSO email from December 17th for more information.


Five Month Rule: The SEVP guidance suspended the “five month rule,” which previously prevented F-1 students from being outside of the U.S. for five months or longer and maintaining their F-1 status. The suspension of the five month rule means that continuing F-1 students can study online from outside of the U.S. and maintain their F-1 status.


J-1 Enrollment Requirements

New J-1 Students: As Iowa State University plans to provide in-person, hybrid, and online courses for Spring 2021, new J-1 students can come to Iowa State University to engage in an exchange program. Incoming J-1 students should maintain normal full-time enrollment requirements and may be asked for proof of enrollment upon entering the U.S. Normal full-time enrollment requirements allows for only one online course (not to exceed 3 credits) to count toward full time enrollment. More information can be found on the Exchange Visitor Program Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19) webpage


Continuing J-1 Students: A continuing student is defined as a J-1 student who was in the U.S. in J-1 status at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Continuing J-1 students can enroll in additional online courses as a means to maintain their program objectives. More information can be found on the Exchange Visitor Program Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19) webpage


Travel Documentation

Documentation for Departure

Students who plan to travel outside of the U.S. should check with each country where they will visit regarding any testing or quarantine requirements.

Students Traveling to China must take a nucleic acid and IgM anti-body test within 48 hours of boarding starting November 6. More information and detailed instructions can be found on the Chinese Embassy website


Documentation for Reentry

All F-1 and J-1 international students must have the following documentation for reentry to the U.S.: passport valid 6 months into the future, valid visa (unless you are a Canadian citizen), and valid I-20 or DS-2019 with travel signature. Travel signatures are valid for one year; validity of travel signatures is reduced to 6 months while on OPT. Students with pending or approved OPT should also carry the receipt notice (if pending), EAD (if approved), and employment letter (optional). We also recommend having documentation showing that Iowa State University will be offering in-person and hybrid coursework for Spring 2021.  


Read more about necessary documentation and preparing for travel on our Travel Outside the U.S. frequently asked questions pages: 

F-1 Travel Outside U.S. 

J-1 Travel Outside U.S. 


Travel Signature on I-20 or DS-2019

F-1 students: Submit the Immigration Document Replacement e-form in Cystart. You will receive a new I-20 (electronically or hard copy) within two business days. 

J-1 students: Drop off DS-2019 to ISSO (3241 Memorial Union) during normal business hours or mail DS-2019 to ISSO. Your DS-2019 will be ready for pick-up or mailing within two business days. To request mailing, email ISSO@iastate.edu for 4-6 day delivery through USPS or submit the Document Mailing form in Cystart. 


Visa Process

Visa Renewals

Department of State (D.O.S.) has temporarily expanded the ability of consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying for a nonimmigrant visa in the same classification. Previously, only those applicants whose nonimmigrant visa expired within 12 months were eligible for an interview waiver. The Secretary has temporarily extended the expiration period to 24 months. This policy is in effect until December 31, 2020. Read more about this on the Department of State website.


Travelers are encouraged to review the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for detailed information on what services are currently available as well as eligibility information and instructions on applying for a visa without an interview. See some country-specific D.O.S. pages below:

India: https://ustraveldocs.com/in/renew-visa.html

China: https://ustraveldocs.com/cn/cn-niv-visarenew.asp

Korea: https://ustraveldocs.com/kr/kr-niv-interviewwaiver.asp

Malaysia: https://ustraveldocs.com/my/my-niv-visarenew.asp (not available for F or J students)

Taiwan: https://ustraveldocs.com/tw/tw-niv-visarenew.asp

Bangladesh: https://ustraveldocs.com/bd/bd-niv-visarenew.asp

Saudi Arabia: https://ustraveldocs.com/sa/sa-niv-visarenew.asp


Expedited Visa Appointments

F-1 and J-1 students may be eligible for an expedited visa appointment if the purpose of travel is to begin or resume a valid program of study in the United States within 60 days when no regular visa appointments are available. This option is limited only to students and exchange students who are within 60 days of their start date. It is also limited only to applicants who have not been refused a visa within the last six months at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Check the U.S. consulate or embassy's website where you plan to apply for more information. 


Travel Restrictions to the U.S.

Some travel restrictions implemented due to COVID-19 are still in effect. Non-citizens who have been in the following countries within the past 14 days will not be permitted entry to the U.S.: China, Iran, Brazil, European Schengen area, United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, and India.


For F-1 and J-1 students from European Schengen countries, United Kingdom, and Ireland, you may qualify for a national interest waiver (NIE) through Department of State allowing entry to the U.S.


Travel restrictions are subject to change. Prior to any travel, please check the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) website for information on which countries have travel restrictions. 


Negative COVID-19 Test

All air passengers from the United Kingdom will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a plane. More information on these requirements can be found on the CDC Requirement for Proof of Negative COVID-19 Test for All Air Passengers Arriving from the UK to the US webpage.


Effective January 26, 2021, air passengers are required to get a viral test (a test for current infection) within the 3 days before their flight to the U.S. departs, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. More information can be found on the CDC Expands Negative COVID-19 Test Requirement to All Air Passengers Entering the United States page.



All ISU students must follow the United States Center for Disease Control guidelines for self-quarantine upon arrival in the U.S.  (See: CDC guidance). See the ISU Self-Quarantine Requirements FAQ for more information. 


Additional Resources

ISSO COVID-19 Email Outreaches, F-1 Students

Iowa State University COVID-19 Response

Immigration Updates

COVID-19 Resource Page