COVID-19 Webinar FAQs: Travel

TRAVEL

I have family in Colorado and my parents want me to go there, but you have advised that I remain in Pittsburgh. What shall I do?

You are encouraged to go to family within the United States if that is possible.  We erred by saying that you should stay in Pittsburgh – what we really meant is that you should stay in the United States.  By all means, if you have relatives to stay with in the States, feel free to go there. 

I am thinking about going home now and coming back for the Fall Semester.  What should I consider? 

OIS recommends that you not travel outside the United States at this time, due to the uncertainty of the future.  There are currently travel bans in place for people who have traveled to certain countries and we do not know how many additional countries might be added to this list in the future, or whether the bans will be extended throughout the summer. Therefore, in order to be most assured that you will be able to return to Pitt in the Fall, we recommend that you do not travel at this time.  However, if you do decide you want to leave, keep in mind the following things:

  • If you are outside the U.S. for more than 5 months, you will need a new I-20 and your SEVIS record will be considered a new record.  This may have implications for any immigration benefit you might seek, like OPT or CPT;
     
  • You will need access to all Pitt online platforms.  If you are returning to a home where internet is spotty and/or there are firewall issues, keep in mind that it may be difficult for you to complete this semester, which will affect your education and grades.
     
  • Remember the time difference between your home and Pitt.  If your teachers require all students to log-in to an online course at the same time, keep in mind that for you this may mean that you will be in class at 3am.  

If I’m not planning to return to the States (because I’m graduating this year, I’m an exchange student, etc.) can I go home now? 

Yes, you can feel free to travel back to your home country if that is where you feel safest, and if you are not planning to return to the United States.  Keep in mind the internet issues you may face at home.  You will need to complete your current semester courses from wherever you are. This is particularly important for students who plan on graduating this term. 

Could we avoid the current travel bans by staying in a third country for 14 days? 

Yes, under the current travel ban rules, if you remain in a third, unencumbered country for 14 days, you would be able to return to the United States.  Keep in mind, however, that we have no way of knowing what future travel bans may be put into place or what the stipulations might be. 

Will OIS continue to provide a travel signature? 

Yes, OIS will always provide travel signatures as needed.  OIS will begin to work remotely in the very near future. At that time, You can request a new travel signature via the “Shipment Request” e-form in the “Biographical Information” section of My OIS. You will prepare an express mail envelope (DHL, FedEx, UPS) via eShipGlobal and OIS can create an I-20 / DS-2019 with an updated signature, and then mail it to you. 

  • If you are currently in Pittsburgh and know that you will need a signature within the next few months, you are advised to come to the OIS office as soon as possible to facilitate an in-person signature. Until OIS begins to work remotely, office hours are 9am – 4:30pm.  You can drop by during open hours and obtain a signature within a few hours (we may ask you to leave your documents and return in a few hours if no one is available immediately.) 

How long do the current travel bans last? 

The bans which affect those traveling to China and Iran are indefinite.  The ban affecting travelers from the Schengen region was enacted for a period of 30 days, beginning on March 13th. The bans which have just been announced today, March 14, 2020, for the countries of Ireland and the United Kingdom, will go into effect Monday, March 16, 2020 and last for 30 days. However, we have no way of knowing whether or how these bans may expand in the future.  

What should we do if the United States blocks everyone from leaving the country? Alternatively, is there a chance that the United States will send all international students home? 

There is no indication that either of these situations is likely to occur.  The U.S. travel bans were enacted in order to stop or slow the spread of COVID-19.  Blocking people from leaving the United States or requiring groups of people to leave would not support the goal of slowing the spread of the disease.  

What if I go back to my country and then a travel ban is issued for travel to that country. Will I get stuck there when everyone else is returning to school? 

Yes, if a travel ban is enacted for your country, similar to the current travel bans for China, Iran, and the Schengen region, you would not be able to return to the U.S. while the ban is in effect, even if you have a valid visa.  That is why OIS is recommending that you remain in the U.S. for the summer.  We have no way of knowing what countries, if any, may be placed under similar bans, or how long they might last. 

If we decide to leave Pittsburgh and the U.S., is there anything we need to prepare? 

Prepare as you would normally prepare to leave for the summer.  Remember to pack up and store your belongings, if necessary.  Obtain a travel signature from OIS if the latest travel signature on your I-20 will be more than a year old by the time you return. And remember that you will need to return to the U.S. within 5 months, or you will need to work with OIS to create a new I-20 and a new SEVIS record prior to your return 

I plan to return to my home country but my visa will expire before I expect  to return.  If I am unable to get a visa appointment because of Embassy closings, will I still be able to return to the United States with my I-20 and old visa?  

No. Unless you are from Canada, you will need a current visa and a valid I-20 every time you enter the country.  It is our understanding that there are very significant visa delays in some countries around the world, and we have no way of knowing what the situation will be in the summer.  But if you are unable to secure a valid visa, you will not be permitted to re-enter the U.S.