COVID-19 Webinar for Adminstrators

To view the webinar, please visit: https://youtu.be/XirCUd67DkU


OIS Remote Work

In general, how will the remote work for OIS? 

You will continue to use MyOIS to submit all requests for new/continuing processing.  Brianna Allen will be your main point of contact for specific questions. Feel free to email her as you normally would. 

Where should the Department mail any original item that OIS needs? 

OIS has opened a mailbox at 55 Clinton St., Box 267, Greenville, PA 16125. If you mail something via campus mail, it will also be forwarded.  However, we encourage you to use the Greenville post box address whenever possible, as your documents will reach OIS staff sooner than going through campus mail. 

  • UPDATED: As some of you suggested, we have been informed by the P.O. Box holder that they don’t typically accept UPS or FedEx (though they have accepted some already.) Therefore, if you have the capability to scan the documents instead of mailing them, you can scan and send them via email to the specialist working on your case. USCIS has indicated that they will accept scanned copies of documents rather than original signatures during this period, so even original letters can be scanned and sent via email. If you are unable to scan the documents, please send them as normal to the OIS address and they will be scanned and forwarded to the specialist by the OIS member receiving our mail.

How should check requests be handled? 

Continue to process the checks as you normally would, but do NOT anticipate that they will be sent back to your department for inclusion with your documents.  The payment office will send the checks directly to the Mailbox and OIS will attach them to your documents for mailing to USCIS.   You may want to add a note to the check request that indicates that the check should be sent to OIS, but the payment office has indicated that they would automatically send all Department of Homeland Security and USCIS checks to OIS at the Greenville post box.  

  • UPDATED: The payment office has asked that all USCIS/Department of Homeland Security check requests continue to be processed as “pick-up” checks, even though we understand that they won’t actually be picked up. This designation flags the check for the payment office so they can mail to the post box address.

J-1 Scholars

What is the first date our department can request a new J-1 scholar to begin? 

The University has suspended all new J-1 scholar programs until further notice, and at least until August 1, 2020. As the situation evolves, this date may be extended.

Why was August 1st selected as the postponed start date? 

No one knows how long we will be asked to limit travel, but the Provost’s office took into consideration advice from the Department of State, which has suspended all its government sponsored programs indefinitely. OIS will continue to monitor the situation and the Provost’s office may decide to extend the August 1st date if needed.

What is the difference between a late arrival and a cancellation? And how shall we decide which to do? 

With a late arrival, OIS can simply postpone the start date on the DS-2019.  The scholar will continue to hold his/her SEVIS record – no additional SEVIS fee would need to be paid and the same visa can be used (assuming it’s still valid when the program starts.) A cancellation actually cancels that record entirely.  If the scholar is able to come to Pitt at a later time, a new record would need to be created, with a new SEVIS fee, etc.  

To make the decision of which to do for each scholar, the department and scholar should ascertain whether it’s feasible for the program to start late, or if the postponement makes it impossible for the scholar to participate in the program.  If that answer is not clear, OIS recommends that you process a late arrival now and then make the decision to cancel at a later time if that definitely becomes necessary. 

  • UPDATED: If you have previously issued a late arrival for a scholar but the start date was prior to August 1st, please re-submit another late arrival with the August 1st (or later) start date.
  • UPDATED: If your previous late arrival has not yet been processed, you may reach out to ois@pitt.edu and request that the August 1st date be exchanged for the earlier date.

Is it possible for a J-1 scholar to transfer into or out of Pitt during this time? 

There is no problem approving a transfer out of Pitt at this time, assuming the scholar has another institution that wants him/her to come and they qualify otherwise for the transfer (i.e., they are not at the end of their maximum time.) 

If they are currently in the U.S. in a different status, could a scholar change to J-1 status? 

Theoretically, a person could change to J-1 status from a different status if they are already in the States.  However, they would not be able to begin working in J-1 status until the request was actually approved, which would almost certainly take months.  

If a scholar is currently out of the country but his/her program is not yet ended, what should we do? 

The Department of State has confirmed that sponsors can continue to extend programs of scholars if they are out of the country and cannot return do to COVID-19.  If the scholar is able to perform any/all of their requirements while out of the country, the department should work with them to the extent possible.  

We have a scholar whose status is ending in the next month, but they are unable to travel home. Is there anything we can do to help the scholar? 

If there is more time on the scholar’s maximum time in his/her status, and the scholar is able to continue working in their program to the extent possible remotely, the department can request an extension of the program. If there is no time left on their current program, the scholar should talk with a specialist at OIS and may be referred to an attorney for further guidance. 

We have a scholar who was planning to transfer to a new institution, but now they have cancelled the transfer.  Is there anything we can do to help the scholar? 

If the scholar is able to continue working in their program to the extent possible remotely, the department can allow the scholar to continue and to request an extension of the program if needed. 

Our J-1 scholar is currently working from home.  Will that affect his/her program status? 

The Department of State has indicated their understanding that programs may need to be adjusted based on COVID-19, and they intend to be flexible with the normal regulations. Departments should continue to work with scholars to the extent possible remotely.  State guidance indicates that, “Current exchange visitors may continue in programs that, as intended…, fully comply with the regulations.” 

H-1B Questions

I premium processing still available for any petitions? 

No.  As of March 20, 2020, USCIS has suspended all premium processing for petitions.  The Agency will continue to process any petition that was filed using premium processing prior to March 20thbut will return all premium processing applications submitted after that time. 

How long will it take for an H-1B petition to be processed without premium processing?

Historically regular processing has taken anywhere from  2 – 8 months. Given how work plans have been interrupted everywhere, we can expect processing times to be at the high end of that, or even to increase. We can hope that premium processing may resume at some point, and if it is reinstated, we can request it for any petitions pending at that time. 

We have an H-1B whose current status is ending and they need an extension.  How will the premium processing suspension affect this? 

An H-1B extension must be filed prior to the end date on the current H-1B.  If the petition is timely filed, the employee can continue to work for 240 days beyond the end date of their current status.  

Our faculty member is currently on an H-1B which will need an extension and s/he also needs to travel in the fall for a conference.  Assuming that travel bans are lifted and s/he is able to travel to the conference, how might the lack of premium processing affect that travel. 

An H-1B holder will not be permitted to re-enter the U.S. until the petition has been approved.  We are hopeful that if/when travel bans are lifted, things may be more back to normal and premium processing will resume, though there are no guarantees about that. 

We have just hired someone in a different immigration status, and they will need an H-1B.  How will the premium processing suspension affect this hire? 

A new employee cannot begin working until the H1B is approved.  OIS will explore other options for that employee (e.g. OPT or TN status) but if there are no other options available, the employment must be delayed until the H-1B is approved. 

I have a J-1 Scholar who has received J-1 Waiver and will need to submit an H-1B petition.  Her current status expires on 01-JUN-2020.  Our department intends to issues her an offer letter effective 01-APR-2020.  Will we be able to continue with this petition? 

Yes, you can continue with the filing of the H-1B petition, and OIS advises that you do so as soon as possible.  An H-1B petition can be filed up to 6 months prior to the start of the position.  Without premium processing available, it is imperative that you file a new petition as early as possible.  The filing of the petition prior to the ending of the employee’s current status will allow them to remain in the country while that petition is pending. However, the employee will not be permitted to work between the time that her current J-1 status ends and the H-1B status is approved.  The department is encouraged to work with HR to determine the appropriate employment options (leave without pay, etc.) that might be available for the department and employee in the interim.  

H1B processing times for new faculty recruits outside of the US, for the purpose of estimating their new start date at Pitt, should we assume the maximum amount of USCIS processing time (e.g. up to 11 months before a decision is issued)? 

Yes, unfortunately at this time, you should assume the maximum amount of time for your faculty to enter the U.S. on an H-1B visa. However, remember that we are not legally permitted to file the H-1B petition more than six months prior to the proposed start date.  OIS encourages you to start your request with OIS as soon as possible so we are able to be prepared to file the USCIS paperwork as early as we possibly can (6 months before hire.)  OIS is hopeful that premium processing will be reinstated as soon as the COVID-19 crisis is more under control, but at this point, it is safe to assume that petitions will be much longer than normal for a period of time. 

Our H-1B employee is now working from home.  Will this cause a problem with maintaining their status? Do we need to file an amendment? 

As long as the employee is able to continue to complete his/her normal duties and/or continue their employment with Pitt, we don’t anticipate any difficulties with their visa status.   

General

We have a scholar who is scheduled to present research at a conference in September.  Can they plan to travel to that conference?  

Currently all university travel has been suspended.  Please check on the www.emergency.pitt.edu/covid-19 website for latest developments.  At this time, Pitt will not sponsor any business travel. 

We have a scholar whose visa stamp is expiring, and s/he is worried about what that means for their status.  What should I tell them?

A person’s visa does not have to be valid if they are remaining in the United States.  The status on the underlying document - DS-2019, H-1B I-94 – must be valid, but the visa can expire.  The scholar will need to secure a new visa the next time they travel outside the country so they can re-enter the U.S. If they have additional questions, they should contact OIS.  

How do we deal with the 14-day isolation period for scholars/employees?

We anticipate that new scholars and employees will not be arriving from outside the United States in the near future.  However, in the event that isolation periods are required for new or current scholars/staff, they should follow university protocol.  You are encouraged to get up-to-date information from www.emergency.pitt.edu/covid-19.  In general, the government has signaled their intent to be flexible with normal rules during this time, and your scholars and employees will maintain their status while in isolation, even if they cannot perform their duties fully.