Fall 2020 Information for International Graduate Students

Fall 2020 International Graduate Enrollment Options

Despite these uncertain times, we hope that you are excited about the Fall 2020 academic semester at the University of Pittsburgh. Although we are excited to welcome you to campus, we know that doing so may not be possible for some of you. Many of our programs are providing enrollments options. Please contact your Academic Department for additional information about your specific options.

OIS will be hosting a webinar to answer incoming and current graduate student questions on July 17, 2020 at 8am EST. Register to attend this webinar here. Please send you questions to Kati Von Lehman. Questions will either be addressed during the webinar or in the FAQs below after the webinar.

Notice about SEVP Guidance: The July 6, 2020 SEVP Guidance and the July 7, 2020 SEVP FAQs contain conflicting information, especially as it relates to the status of SEVIS records by continuing students who study outside the U.S. for the Fall 2020 semester. In addition, a lawsuit has been filed against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institution of Technology, challenging the government's guidance.

OIS is carefully monitoring all developments and will provide updates to our FAQ's below as necessary. Please note that the answers to these questions may change if/when SEVP guidance evolves. Students should frequently review the FAQs below that are pertinent to their situation.


  • NEW AND CONTINUING STUDENTS: The University’s instructional model, Flex@Pitt, is fully supportive of international students and in compliance with Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement guidance. Flex@Pitt ensures that in-person learning experiences will be accessible to all students and enables instructors and students to prepare for all modes of teaching and learning, including in-person and hybrid/blended activities. Robust resources—including new classroom equipment and health and safety guidelines—will facilitate dynamic modes of teaching and learning activities inside and outside the classroom; students should work with their academic advisor to select the courses most appropriate to their academic path.

Frequently Asked Questions

U.S. Regulations state that, “Practical training may be authorized to an F-1 student who has been lawfully enrolled on a full time basis, in a Service-approved college, university, conservatory, or seminary for one full academic year. This provision also includes students who, during their course of study, were enrolled in a study abroad program, if the student had spent at least one full academic term enrolled in a full course of study in the United States prior to studying abroad.”
OIS recommends taking a conservative approach to all this guidance and we interpret it to mean that a student has to have been enrolled one full year while in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa in order to be eligible for either OPT or CPT.  While it is possible that the government may provide additional clarification and officially approve online enrollment while outside the U.S. for these purposes, at this time we do not believe it is permitted.  The OIS guidance contained below takes this approach.

  • NEW STUDENTS: You will need to be enrolled in a course of study for two complete semesters within the United States prior to becoming eligible for CPT/OPT. That means if you select the Remote Classes or Defer Attendance option for Fall 2020, you would not be eligible for CPT/OPT until at least Fall 2021, after taking a full course load in both the Spring 2021 and Summer 2021 terms within the U.S. 
  • CONTINUING STUDENTS: You will be eligible for CPT/OPT after completing at least two semesters of courses within the U.S. SEVP has verified that the Spring 2020 semester is acceptable under these rules, even if you returned home and completed the semester remotely. 
  • NEW STUDENTS: You may, and should, attend the visa appointment, but if you are a new student, you will not be able to travel to Pittsburgh immediately. You must be able to arrive to campus no later than September 4th, or you will need to wait until the Spring semester.  OIS is required to either register you or defer your attendance in the SEVIS system, and September 4th is our deadline for doing this.  Once your I-20 is deferred, you will be permitted to enter within 30 days of the Spring Semester deferral date. 
  • CONTINUING STUDENTS: Yes, since you are a continuing student with a valid I-20, you may enter the U.S. as soon as you obtain your visa (unless you are from a country where there is a travel ban.)

Your I-20 will be deferred to the Spring 2021 semester (or later than that if you choose), and you will not be permitted to enter the U.S. until 30 days prior to the start date of your new I-20.

Until the U.S. government issues guidance for the Fall 2020 semester, we cannot guarantee anything.  However, we believe that it is likely that SEVP will permit students outside the U.S. to retain their active SEVIS status as long as they are enrolled in classes full-time. We also expect that SEVP will allow those in the U.S. to continue to take online courses to satisfy the full-time requirement.  It is, therefore, our intention to keep your SEVIS record active as long as you remain a full-time student at Pitt, even when you are out of the country or enrolled in classes remotely. When SEVP issues the Fall 2020 guidance we will update this FAQ. Continuing students who opt to take a leave of absence for the Fall semester will have their I-20’s terminated (Authorized Early Withdrawal) and will either be issued new I-20’s or have their current I-20 reactivated prior to re-entering the U.S.

A continuing international student can take a leave of absence by contacting your Academic Department and following required procedures.  After working with your department, you must contact your immigration specialist to notify OIS of your decision.  If you are a continuing student who is still inside of the U.S., and you decide to take a leave of absence, you must depart the United States no later than September 3rd (15 days past the first day of classes.)

Please contact your Academic Department and, if permission for deferral is granted, please send an email to OISNew@pitt.eduto notify OIS of your decision. 

Please speak with your Academic Department about the option you prefer to make sure it is possible in your program.  

Please also note that new students will not be permitted to select the remote option and then enter the U.S. prior to the Spring 2021 semester.  The U.S. government will not permit an initial student to enter the country if they are going to take online classes only. New students CAN select this option and take remote/online courses from outside the U.S.

During the  COVID-19 pandemic, SEVP has indicated that an electronic copy of the I-20 is acceptable. However, OIS is concerned that other U.S. government agencies may not accept an electronic I-20. Initial students will continue to receive their I-20s via the eShipGlobal service. If you do not receive your I-20 due to COVID-related mailing issues, please contact oisnew@pitt.edu to request an electronic copy of your I-20. 

There are currently travel restrictions that might interfere with your ability to enter the U.S. For example, current travel restrictions do not permit you to enter the U.S. within 14 days of living or visiting the following countries:  Brazil, China, Iran, European Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City), Republic of Ireland, United Kingdom,
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posts the current status of these restrictions and you should check this page frequently as you make plans to travel to the U.S.