ISO Resources related to MIT Spring 2020 Semester/COVID-19

ISO Resources related to MIT Spring 2020 Semester/COVID-19

Dear International Students,

We all read President Reif’s letter yesterday, March 10, announcing the transition of course instruction from on-campus to online, with both the understanding of the health concerns to our community and also the unexpected change in plans for our Spring 2020 semester.   This is indeed a unique situation, one that I have not experienced in my 28 years working in higher education.  But I am confident that we will all be able to take the necessary steps to protect our health and the health of the entire MIT community, and successfully complete the Spring semester

Additional guidance has been provided today – “Time Sensitive Information About Moving and Resources” – from Chancellor Cindy Barnhart, Vice President and Dean of Student Life Suzy Nelson, and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz – that will be extremely important to read.

I know there are a lot of questions about how these changes will impact an international student’s visa status and other concerns.  I hope the following information is helpful to address some additional questions that have been raised to the International Students Office, and more updates will be provided as they become available.


During the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester, MIT students who are enrolled full-time (even while finishing their subjects through online instruction) will be considered to be maintaining their F-1 or J-1 student visa status, whether they are physically inside the U.S. or outside the U.S.

The only potential impact will be for students who remain outside the U.S. for more than 5 months.  Students who would be returning to the U.S. within 5 months would be considered to have continually maintained their visa status.

This maintenance of status allows students to maintain eligibility for the benefits of their visa status, including on-campus employment, the ability to apply for off-campus employment authorizations (F-1 Curricular Practical Training, F-1 Optional Practical Training, and J-1 Academic Training), and continuing their studies beyond the Spring 2020 semester.


Graduate Students living in MIT residences will be allowed to remain on-campus.  Graduate Students who can work remotely and can arrange to reside away from campus, including back in home country, are strongly encouraged to do so.

Undergraduate Students living in MIT residences are required to leave by 12:00noon on Tuesday, March 17 (and first-years, sophomores, and juniors should plan to not return to campus until Fall semester).

Undergraduate Students who are unable to return to their home country, or to an off-campus location, may request permission to remain in MIT residences under limited circumstances, including:

  • International students who will have difficulty returning to their home country if it has been hard-hit by Covid-19.
  • Students who do not have a home to go to, or for whom going home would be unsafe given the circumstances of their home country or home life.
  • International students who have concerns they would not be allowed to return to MIT due to visa issues (including students from countries subject to the Travel Ban). 

The Division of Student Life and Office of the Vice Chancellor have sent out an email with the subject line ““Time sensitive information about moving & resources”, advising Undergraduate Students who want to request permission to remain in MIT residences to complete the “Undergraduate Form to Request Permission to Remain on Campus” by 12:00noon on Friday March 13, 2020

Any student who is permitted to stay in MIT residences is advised they may be required to relocate to another residence on campus.


It is unclear at this time if or when additional travel restrictions on entry to the U.S. or entry to other countries, will be implemented.  The ISO will continue to provide updates as we receive them, but students can also consult U.S. Embassy/Consulate websites for details on any visa or travel restrictions to the U.S. posted by the U.S. Department of State. 


The ISO will continue to provide services to students, throughout the Spring 2020 semester and beyond, even in the event that the physical office has to be closed.  ISO Staff will continue to be available to students remotely.

We want to confirm a number of functional updates:

  • We encourage students to review the extensive information on immigration/visa, travel, student support, and other topics available on the ISO website (
  • ISO will remain open for drop off/pick up of visa documents or letters (or they can be requested to be mailed to students). 
  • In-Person appointments may be limited, but ISO Advisors will continue to be available by email or by phone.  Each student may contact their ISO Advisor Point-of-Contact — Undergraduates have one advisor and Graduate Students and Visiting Students are assigned an ISO Advisor based on your academic program.  Please see the ISO Advisor listing here
  • ISO continues to process any new visa document requests, including for F-1 Curricular Practical Training, F-1 Optional Practical Training, J-1 Academic Training, Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 Extensions, letters, etc. requested through iMIT (students will receive an email once the new document is ready for pickup or mailing).
  • ISO will provide Employment Workshop presentation slides (F-1 Practical Training; J-1 Academic Training) links on iMIT and on the ISO website; and will be formulating a virtual presentation format in the coming weeks.  Details on Employment Authorization options are available on the ISO website here
  • ISO will issue information updates on the ISO website, ISO Broadcast emails and ISO E-Newsletter throughout the Spring 2020 term.

A continuous update will be posted on an ongoing “Recent News” item, titled “ISO Updates-Spring 2020”, so please check back often.


F-1 students, applying for Pre-Completion OPT for a summer internship/experience, or Post-Completion OPT, must file their application for OPT, and the application must be received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) while physically present in the U.S. 

If students are planning to leave the U.S. for the remainder of the Spring 2020 term, but desire OPT authorization for work starting in the summer, students will need to be sure their OPT application is received, and proof of receipt from USCIS is received (email/text message from USCIS providing official application receipt number), BEFORE leaving the U.S. 

Details on how to request the required new Form I-20 to include in the OPT application, and procedures for submitting an OPT application to USCIS, is available on the ISO website (

OPT application processing times have averaged 90-100 days, but there is no guarantee on processing time.  Recent experience is that USCIS can take longer to process these applications.

NOTE:  Students applying for Post-Completion OPT may depart the U.S. after receiving from USCIS proof of receipt of their OPT application.  However, students MUST be back inside the U.S. prior to their program completion date, as listed on Form I-20, otherwise they will need to remain outside the U.S. until OPT is approved, their friend/family member can mail their OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card to them abroad, and the student has a job offer letter for their OPT period to present with the EAD upon entry to the U.S.
IMPORTANT:  If a student enters the U.S. in a different visa status (such as a tourist visa) while waiting for OPT to be approved, or after OPT is approved, the student is ending their F-1 student status and forfeiting the remainder of their OPT period. 

Please contact your ISO Advisor if you have questions about travel while an OPT application is pending at USCIS.


If your current F-1 or J-1 visa, issued by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad, will be expired before a planned return to the U.S. from abroad, students will need to plan to apply for a new visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate while abroad. 

NOTE:  An F-1 or J-1 visa, issued by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, may expire while in the U.S., and a student is considered maintaining status as long as they have a valid passport, valid Form I-20/DS-2019, I-94 record, and is enrolled full-time at MIT or is authorized after completion of degree for Post-Completion employment.  A student would only need to apply for a new visa if the student will be traveling outside the U.S. and need to return to the U.S. to continue their F-1 or J-1 status.

Details on travel and applying for a visa at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad are available on the ISO website [Obtaining a Visa and Entering U.S. Borders].

Details on the visa application procedures are also available on the U.S. Embassy/Consulate website.


If a student will not complete their program of study by the program end date listed on their Form I-20 (F-1 visa holders) or Form DS-2019 (J-1 visa holders), should request an I-20 or DS-2019 Extension in iMIT.  An extension request will require a letter from your Undergraduate or Graduate Administrator confirming your new expected program completion date, the reason why additional time is completed degree beyond normal timeframe, and documentation of how the student will be funded (tuition, fees, health insurance, living expenses) for the additional period of stay.

Form I-20 or DS-2019 Extensions can be completed while a student is outside the U.S.

Details on how to request a Form I-20 Extension or Form DS-2019 Extension are available in iMIT under “F-1 Student Services” or “J-1 Student Services”.


The ISO will continue to update our website, on our main page and the “ISO Updates-Spring 2020” page.

Any immigration or visa updates will be included in the ISO “Major Immigration Updates and Alerts” page.

We know this is a unique time.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to the ISO if you have any questions or we can be of any assistance.  Additional MIT resources are also available, including Student Support Services, and GradSupport, and can be of assistance. There are also other MIT staff who can help: your advisor, residential life staff (if you live on campus), the Chaplains in the Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life, and counselors in Student Mental Health and Counseling Services. A full list of emergency assistance contact information is also available on the MIT Student Resources website or on the MIT Mobile App under “Student Support.”

David Elwell
David C. Elwell
Associate Dean and Director
International Students Office