Spring 2021 Information for International Graduate Students

Spring 2021 International Graduate Enrollment Options

Despite these uncertain times, we hope that you are excited about the Spring 2021 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. The options listed below will ensure that you will have the best Pitt experience, even if you are unable to arrive in-person to a Pitt campus this spring.

To all air travelers entering the U.S.: Effective January 26, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will require proof of a negative COVID-19 test for all air passengers arriving into the U.S. The test must be conducted with a specimen collected within 3 calendar days preceding the flight.

To nonimmigrant travelers from Brazil, Iran, and China: The Presidential Proclamation which establishes a travel ban from these areas is still in effect. Therefore, if you intend to travel to the U.S. from one of these locations, you must first travel to a third country and remain there for 14 full days before traveling into the U.S.

To F-1 travelers from the Schengen Region, United Kingdom and Ireland: U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued the following document which verifies that F-1 students and their dependents may travel to the U.S. from the Schengen region, U.K., and Ireland under a National Interest Exception to the Presidential Proclamation travel ban. Students traveling from those countries are encouraged to print and carry this document when traveling into the U.S.

Notice about SEVP Guidance: The U.S. Government first issued guidance regarding special COVID-19 related immigration standards in March 2020. These standards were in effect from March through the end of summer terms across the U.S. On July 6, 2020 and July 7, 2020, SEVP issued new guidance for Fall 2020, which significantly changed the March guidance. A lawsuit was 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. On July 14, 2020, the Government and universities entered into an agreement which rescinded the July 6 and 7th guidance and which reinstated the March 2020 Guidance.

PLEASE NOTE: SEVP has indicated that for the Spring 2021 term, non-immigrant students should continue to abide by SEVP guidance originally issued in March 2020. Therefore, the FAQ’s below follow the SEVP Fall 2020 Guidance and FAQ’S. Students should frequently review the FAQs below that are pertinent to their situation. At this time, OIS recommends all students travel with a copy of this Spring 2021 Letter for Students.


  • 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

Based on the outcome in the Harvard/MIT lawsuit and the July 15 FAQ, our reading is that international students with active SEVIS records may keep their active SEVIS status as long as they enroll full-time. When Pitt returns to normal operations, students must return to campus to maintain active SEVIS status.

Yes. According to the most recent guidance issued by SEVP, continuing international students can take classes in various modes: in-person, hybrid, or fully remote from within or outside the United States. The SEVIS record will remain active as long as the student maintains full-time enrollment in a Pitt program.  If SEVP guidance changes before the beginning of the spring 2021 term, the FAQs will be updated. New students may not enter the U.S. and begin a full load of online courses. At least one course must have an in-person component for all new students. 

Yes. An I-20 and active SEVIS record are not required to enroll in online courses from outside the United States. New international students will not be activated in SEVIS until their arrival in the United States and enrollment in in-person classes.  

Yes, but take note of the following: 
·      New international students outside of the United States may take an entirely online course load while they remain outside of the United States.   
·      International students with an INITIAL SEVIS I-20 may not enter the United States to take an entirely online course load.
·      International students with an INITIAL SEVIS I-20 may enter the United States if the student is not taking an entirely online course load. Based upon the July 24th SEVP Guidance and FAQ’s, international students with I-20s marked “initial attendance” will be permitted to study at Pitt while enrolling in Flex @ Pitt courses, provided at least one of those courses has an in-person component during the semester. 

On July 15, 2020, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued an FAQ document for universities to follow with respect to international students in Fall 2020. This FAQ replaces the now rescinded July 6 directive blocking online only students in the United States.  On July 24, 2020, ICE issued clarifying questions to supplement this guidance. SEVP has indicated that for the Spring 2021 term, non-immigrant students should continue to abide by SEVP guidance originally issued in March 2020

Yes. Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and you may have to sit near others (within 6 feet), sometimes for hours. This may increase your risk for exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.  For information about airline travel during the pandemic, see this CDC webpage.

 Due to the rising cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, the PA Department of Health has updated their travel information to require either a COVID-negative test or strict quarantine upon return to PA from any other state or country.  Please review this governmental guidance closely.  Effective January 26, 2021, all airline passengers will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the U.S.  Tests must be within 3 days of departure.  Consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, all those who enter the USA from foreign travel are required to self-quarantine for 14 days. During this 14-day period, one is to follow these steps to monitor your health and practice social distancing:
1.     Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day and monitor for fever. 
2.     Stay home and avoid contact with others. Do not go to work or school.
3.     Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares.
4.     Keep your distance from others (about 6 feet or 2 meters).

The University intends to offer a minimum of two cloth masks, with the Pitt logo, to every student upon arrival. Also, the University positioned numerous hand sanitizer stations throughout campus. They are located at all entry and exit areas, elevators, rest rooms, etc.

As required by the current PA Department of Health requirements, you must quarantine for 14 days every time you enter PA from a different state, OR have a negative COVID test.  As a result, some students may need to attend classes remotely even after in-person classes have begun.


No. The visa type that you use to enter the U.S. determines what you are able to do in the U.S.  A B1/B2 visa does not allow you to study. 
For up to date information, please see www.coronavirus.pitt.edu and https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

The biggest concerns would be internet access, security firewalls that may prevent access to some online platforms and time zone differences.  If you are comfortable that you are able to access Canvas and other technology consistently, you should not have any trouble with Flex@Pitt while abroad. Pitt IT has resources available to help students who are experiencing connectivity issues or who may not have access to reliable technology or Wi-Fi at home. Contact the 24/7 IT Help Desk by calling 412-624-HELP (4357) to learn more.

It is the intention to make classes available via asynchronous instruction, meaning that lectures may be recorded.  However, some instructors may prefer that students join in real time to facilitate discussions and promote learning.  Efforts are being made to schedule classes in ways that make this easier for people in different time zones.  More information about Flex @ Pitt is available at: https://teaching.pitt.edu/#Flex-Pitt-Instructional-Model-Fall-2020.

The Flex@Pitt model of instruction allows for the seamless transition between in-person and online course delivery as the situation changes.  Therefore, if the need arises, all courses will deliver content remotely. More information about Flex @ Pitt is available at: https://teaching.pitt.edu/#Flex-Pitt-Instructional-Model-Fall-2020.For updates on classes, undergraduate students should visit: https://www.provost.pitt.edu/students/undergraduate-studies; graduate students should visit https://www.provost.pitt.edu/students/graduate-studies.

Graduate programs have varying start dates.  Please check with your academic program to determine the first day of your classes.

No. If you choose the Flex@Pitt option to study remotely from your home country in the Spring 2021 semester, it is recommended but not required to have health insurance. When you return to classes on campus, the requirement to enroll in UPMC health insurance or attest to having other US-based coverage will be reinstated effective immediately.

Please review our Travel Information handout for detailed information on what to carry with you when you travel. Be sure to have these documents in your carry-on luggage, and do not put them in your checked baggage.

You will need to contact your country’s Embassy to determine the procedures for the renewal of your passport. Please begin this process at least six months before the expiration of your current passport.

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 Learning Abroad option or defer attendance for Spring 2021, you would not be eligible for CPT/OPT until at least Summer 2022, after taking a full course load in both the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 terms in the United States.
  • 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. We are waiting for SEVP guidance to confirm that continued remote classwork will be counted toward the CPT/OPT eligibility.
  • 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 February 5, 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 Feburary 5 is our deadline for doing this.  Once your I-20 is deferred, you will be permitted to enter within 30 days of the Fall Semester start 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.)

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 February 3rd (15 days past the first day of classes.)