Scholar & Employee FAQs and Travel Considerations During the COVID19 Pandemic
Tuesday, August 12
The ISSO Scholar Team continues to provide services remotely while the ISSO is closed to walk-in traffic. Please contact your advisor directly to set up a phone call or Zoom appointment. We understand that our scholars and sponsoring departments have many questions during these challenging circumstances. We will continue to update the information as new information becomes available, so we recommend that you check this page regularly for up-to-date information.
Given the shifting nature of things, there is risk to international travel at this time. Before departing the U.S., we recommend that you check with your airline and the government of the country you are traveling to in order to learn of any restrictions or quarantine requirements once you arrive. In addition, please continue to review information about travel restrictions, travel bans or quarantines for your return to the U.S. In many parts of the world, movement is being restricted severely with little to no warning.
For BU Sponsored J-1 Exchange Visitors
We can keep the J-1 SEVIS record active for J-1 scholars who are conducting research remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak provided they have received approval from their research supervisor. Thus, you can continue to engage in your BU research while outside the US until you are able to return to BU. Please note that getting a new travel signature on your Form DS-2019 is not necessary to leave the U.S. We recommend that you contact your advisor to determine if you will need a new Form DS-2019 and travel signature once you determine that you are able to return to the BU campus.
For scholars who must obtain new or renewed visa to return to the US
The Department of State (DOS) has suspended all routine visa services due to COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Embassies and Consulates have cancelled all immigrant and non-immigrant visa interview appointments. Therefore, new and continuing scholars who require a new visa or visa renewal to enter the U.S. may experience delays in obtaining this important documentation. DOS has indicated that visa applicants with an urgent matter who need to travel immediately should follow the instructions on the their Embassy’s website to request an emergency appointment. At this time, only medical personnel, especially those who are working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19 will be considered urgent.
In addition to the suspension of routine visa services, a June update to the Presidential Proclamation banning immigrant visas now also bans visa processing for certain non-immigrant visa classifications until the end of the year. Employees who are in need of either a new or renewed H-1B visa stamp, as well as any dependents who require an H-4 visa stamp to re-enter the US are affected by this ban and may not be eligible to apply for their visa and return to the US in the H-1B (or H-4) classification until early 2021.
Please contact us if you have any questions related to visa processing.
Travel to Canada & returning to the US
The United States and Canada extended a mutual agreement to extend restrictions on non-essential travel across its shared land border until at least, August 20, 2020. However, employment and study is considered “essential” so you should be eligible to cross from Canada to return your employment in the US. Travel to Canada for tourism should be avoided during this time.
Current BU Scholars and Employees
I have been working remotely since the 'stay at home' order was implemented. How might this affect my immigration status?
This is a complicated question as it relates not only to your immigration status but also the location of your remote employment. Generally, so long as you have received approval from your research supervisor to work remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak, there is minimal risk to your immigration status in the U.S. Given that there are many factors to consider, we continue to discuss situations on a case by case basis as appropriate.
I planned to end my time as BU scholar or employee to return home, but I cannot currently depart the US due to flight limitations and travel restrictions. What should I do?
Please contact your home country embassy or consulate in the US to let them know your situation. Your options to remain in the US may vary depending on many factors, including your current immigration status and/or underlying employment verification. We certainly recommend that you consult with your ISSO advisor and host department to discuss options for a short term appointment extension, if allowable or feasible based on your current immigration status and the needs of your host department.
My BU department cannot extend my appointment; I am not eligible for an extension of my J-1 status since I am sponsored as a 'short-term scholar' category and have already been extended to the maximum allowable six-month period. What are my options if either of these scenarios apply to my situation?
J-1 regulations allow for a 30-day grace period to remain in the US after the completion of your J-1 program. Unfortunately, USCIS has not issued any guidance relaxing your requirement to depart the US by the end of your grace period. You might consider submitting an application to USCIS to request a temporary change of status to a Visitor’s visa to give you more time to travel home. This process requires you to submit an application to USCIS along with supporting documentation, a filing fee (currently $370) and a biometric fee (current $85). You can find relevant forms and instructions for this process on the USCIS website. If you leave the US before the change of status is approved, your application will be considered to be abandoned and the change of status will be denied. We would encourage you to consult with an immigration attorney when evaluated your options during this time. Please e-mail your scholar advisor to request a list of Boston-area immigration attorneys.
If you decide not to apply for a change of status, you may be considered to have overstayed or be in violation of your immigration status, which could have negative implications if you want to return to the US in the future. In this case, we recommend keeping detailed documentation of your efforts to depart the US in a timely manner. This may include e-mails, texts and copies of any correspondence you have had with your airline. If you stay beyond the end of your grace period, this documentation may be useful to show that you made every effort to depart the US, but circumstances beyond your control prevented you from doing so in a timely manner.
I have heard that the US State Department has extended all J visas. Will I be getting a new DS-2019 from the ISSO?
In early April, the DOS did extend certain J-1 Exchange Visitors’ status validity for a period of up to two months to allow individuals to continue with their efforts to depart the U.S. This one-time extension was processed automatically and was allowed whether or not the underlying BU appointment was extended. The ISSO has already been in touch with any J-1 scholars who benefited from this automatic extension. At this time, it is not clear if the DOS will take similar actions should the pandemic continue.
My host department and I have been working with the ISSO to change to or extend my immigration status to H-1B. I understand that there is a ban on H-1B visa processing. Will this affect my pending H-1B petition?
While H-1B visa processing is suspended until the end of the year, this will not impact employees who are currently inside the US and are or will be in the process of applying for a change of status to H-1B or an extension of their current H-1B status to continue or commence their employment at BU. Please see more details about the Presidential Proclamation banning certain employment visas and how it may or may not affect you and contact the ISSO if you have any questions.
Arriving Scholars/Employees and their Host Departments
The ISSO has already provided me with a Form DS-2019 or I-797 approval notice. Can I come to BU right away?
In light of the travel considerations outlined above, the ISSO is working closely with our incoming scholars and their host departments to determine realistic time frames for arriving on campus and whether adjustments to immigration records will be necessary. BU is developing a staged return to work plan so we expect that appointment start dates will be determined on a case by case basis, as dictated by the institutional plan. In some cases, scholars who are engaged in COVID-19 related research, may be eligible for an emergency visa appointment and travel to the U.S. despite the travel restrictions and visa processing suspension. In addition, scholars or employees who are already in the U.S. and have appropriate documentation to commence their employment/activity at BU may be able to do so as appropriate per the institutional plan.
I had already obtained my visa to travel to the US prior to the suspension of visa processing at consulates and embassies. Will I now have to apply for a new one?
No. If your visa stamp has already been granted, we recommend that you confirm how long it is valid for. In most cases you will not need to re-apply to a U.S. embassy or consulate even though your expected arrival date may be delayed.
I have arrived in Boston and am ready to commence my employment or activity at BU. What do I need to do to get started?
Given that most BU offices are operating remotely and that many research facilities are temporarily closed or have limited staffing, we recommend that you contact your advisor to discuss the next steps. In addition, if you are arriving from outside of the U.S., please be aware of the BU policy on regarding returning to campus from abroad. Once you are cleared to be on campus, please reach out to us again so that we can assist in getting you started.
I have decided not to come to Boston University. What do I need to do?
We understand that tough decisions may need to be made regarding your plans to travel to BU. We recommend that you notify your host department to discuss whether or not a change in dates is feasible or if you will not be coming to BU at all. Once this is determined your host department can notify the ISSO so that we can take appropriate steps to either amend or cancel any relevant immigration records.
I can do my research and/or teaching from my home country. Can I start my employment at BU while I am still outside of the U.S.?
Hiring employees who are based outside the U.S., even if just on a temporary basis can be complex. For this reason, BU has an International Hiring Working Group to review requests and to work with interested departments to determine options for incoming employees who may be delayed due to travel restrictions during the pandemic. Departments interested in considering whether or not they can hire you on a temporary bases as an external employee should review the information on the HR website (password protected) and follow up with the International Hiring Working Group should they want to pursue this option further.
I have been approved for H-1B status and was planning on getting my visa in the fall so that I can travel to the US to start my work at BU. Since I do not already have my H-1B visa, will the recent Presidential Proclamation banning certain employment visas affect my ability to commence my employment in the fall?
Yes. Unfortunately, unless your visa has already been granted, incoming H-1B employees and any family members who will accompany them in H-4 status will be affected by this ban since H-1 and H-4 visa processing is suspended until the end of the year. The ISSO has already been working closely with affected new employees and their hiring departments to determine potential strategies to facilitate employment before the end of the year. However, in most cases, an adjustment expected employment start date will be required. Please consult with your ISSO advisor to discuss this in more detail.
Now that I am in the U.S., I need to apply for a Social Security Number. What do I do?
Please find some general information on the ISSO website about the social security application process. The process usually requires you to submit an application in person but the Social Security Offices are all closed to walk-in traffic due to COVID. Social Security applications are processed by a specific office based on the zip code of your address on the Social Security application. Prior to applying, you should verify how your application will be processed by contacting the Social Security Office that will process your application. The information below is based on a conversation with the Boston Social Security office in early August, and procedures may vary from office to office.
In order to apply for a Social Security number at the Boston Social Security Office, you will mail your Social Security application along with a photocopy of your immigration documents required for your application based on your immigration status. You should include documentation in your application that verifies the start date of your employment. If, upon review of your documents, it is determined that you need to apply for a Social Security Number, a representative from the office will contact you at the phone number listed on your Social Security application to schedule an in-person appointment. You should not apply for an SSN more than 30 days prior to the start date of your employment.
The Social Security Website list the following instructions during the COVID emergency:
If you need to contact your local office for a dire need situation, please use their online services or contact them by phone at Social Security Office Locator under “Show Additional Office Information” for the office you select. Please visit our Office Closings and Emergencies page for the latest information about office closings.”
How ISSO Can Help?
- We are here to help. The ISSO has moved services online but we will remain available to assist current and incoming scholars and their host departments.
- We will continue to process sponsorship request packets for positions that are exempt from the BU hiring freeze.
- We will continue to complete I-9 employment verification remotely for new employees that are exempt from the BU hiring freeze.
- We will continue to help you navigate the risk associated with travel during this time
- We will continue to update our web resources regarding travel and immigration
- We will notify you when we receive additional guidance from SEVP/USDHS regarding other possible exceptions to regulations that might modify immigration options
- If you decide to depart the US, we can verify your valid SEVIS record, advise you on the immigration documentation you will need to return and make sure you have a valid travel signature.