The University of Iowa

Frequently Asked Questions, ISSS

This web page will be updated regularly with answers to frequently asked questions about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, particularly as they relate to our community of international students and scholars.

For additional information about campus coronavirus updates, go to


Immigration Updates


COVID-19 Health Resources





How can I reach ISSS during this time?

International Student and Scholar Services is virtually open Monday through Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The ISSS reception desk is open by appointment only and only when ISSS determines physical presence is required after a Zoom walk-in appointment.

As always, you should feel free to contact ISSS by visiting ISSS Zoom walk-in hours, calling 319-335-0335, or e-mailing with any questions or concerns you may have. 

Updated: 02/19/2021

Where can I get information about campus and community resources available to UI students and scholars?

ISSS understands that this is a stressful time – especially for those of you deciding whether to travel internationally and wondering when you will be able to return. Please know that we are here to help in any way that we can. And if you need additional support, please do not hesitate to contact the sources below:


Students and Scholars:


Updated: 02/19/2021


Immigration Updates

What are the most recent immigration changes affecting international students and international education as of February 26, 2021?

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and a new presidential administration, there are a number of changes affecting international students and international education to be aware of. The following is a summary of some of the more noteworthy changes.
First, the White House has issued a series of proclamations and executive orders reversing certain policies put in place under the previous administration. The announcement can be found here. 

  • The former citizenship-based travel restriction proclamation has been rescinded.  From now on, applicants to visit the U.S. will be considered for a visa on the merits of their personal application and without regard to their country of citizenship or origin. 
  • The Biden Administration has also reversed the previous administration’s proclamation, which broadly and regularly required visa applicants to complete the form DS-5535, also known as “extreme vetting”. 
  • The ban on immigrant visas outside the U.S. has also been reversed. The ban prevented the issuance of permanent resident status to those outside the U.S. who were family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents in the U.S., diversity lottery applicants, and potential employees who lived outside the U.S. 
  • The Biden Administration has also announced that it will not pursue termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  This means that certain noncitizens who were brought to the U.S. as children will not be subject to potential deportation or loss of legal status in the U.S. The White House announcement can be found here.

The Biden Administration has also ordered a hold on any regulatory changes unless they have been reviewed and approved by an appointee of the Biden Administration. The memorandum can be found here.  This regulatory freeze means that several changes proposed by the previous administration are on hold and may not go into effect, including: 

  • The proposed elimination of Duration of Status requiring students who need more time to graduate to submit an application to the federal government.
  • The Department of Labor (DOL) prevailing wage rule making it difficult for some students to earn H-1B or employment-based permanent residency status.
  • The proposed elimination of work authorization for spouses of some H-1B holders preventing spouses of those with work visas from seeking employment authorization in the U.S. 

There are still some COVID-19-related travel restrictions in place that all international travelers should be aware of. 

  • Negative COVID-19 test results are now required before anyone flies into the U.S. All travelers must have a COVID-19 test showing that they are not infected. It must be taken within 3 days of departure or they will not be allowed to fly into the U.S.
  • The port of entry mask requirement remains in place. Everyone in a U.S. port of entry must now wear a mask at all times.
  • Travel restrictions remain in place for noncitizens in certain countries. This does not affect U.S. citizens or permanent residents. However, all noncitizens who live in or pass through certain countries cannot enter the U.S. until they spend 14 days in some other country. The countries include Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the Schengen Area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland).

Finally, there are few updates regarding U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that we'd like to share with you. 

  • Beginning in late October 2020, schools and students around the country began to notice delays from USCIS in acknowledging the receipt of applications for Optional Practical Training or OPT (this is the work authorization that many students request after completing their program of study). On February 18th, USCIS acknowledged these delays and confirmed that they will honor the date the application was received in the mail as the application receipt date.  This means that students can remain in the U.S. while awaiting adjudication.
  • The update above comes as a group of international students have filed a lawsuit against USCIS saying that USCIS has not been adequately transparent and that applications have not been processed in a timely fashion.
  • USCIS is beginning to resume some routine face-to-face services, after previously limiting face to face appoints to emergency services due to the pandemic.

Updated March 1, 2021



How is my immigration status impacted by the current and future University of Iowa’s instruction mode?

Spring 2021 Semester:

During the spring semester, SEVP Guidance from March 2020 still applies. The guidance regulates enrollment as well as the immigration status of continuing international students as follows:

Continuing international students can take online or in-person credits from either inside or outside the U.S. as long as they are registered on a full-time basis or have received part-time authorization.

Students who do not wish to remain enrolled during the Spring semester must submit either non-medical or medical immigration Withdrawal request. This withdrawal would be processed after the academic withdrawal in MyUI is approved by the academic adviser. Follow UI’s Academic Calendar for withdrawal deadlines and MyUI for withdrawal instructions. Please contact ISSS at with any further questions, concerns.

NOTE: If you are a new student who planned to start school at UI this spring and decided to postpone until Fall 2021, please contact about deferring your program in order to obtain a new I-20/ DS-2019 document. If you are a new student who started taking classes while abroad, you will need an immigration document with the correct program start date before traveling to the US. Please contact

Fall 2021 Semester:
The University of Iowa is looking forward to returning to an on-campus, residential experience in fall 2021. The goal is to hold as many face-to-face courses as possible while maintaining flexibility. Please read this announcement about the fall instruction planning, and contact your academic adviser to plan your enrollment to ensure you are making normal progress towards your degree completion. ISSS will bring you all relevant updates here in the future.

ISSS anticipates new fall 2021 SEVP guidance for new and continuing students later this spring or during the summer. We will share any updates as soon as new guidance is received.

NOTE: If you withdrew your immigration status (took a semester or longer gap/ absence from school) and you plan to return to the US and UI in the fall 2021 semester, please follow information on this ISSS web site – you must obtain a new I-20 to travel back to the US so please plan in advance! Contact with any concerns, questions. 

Updated: 02/19/2021


How do I prepare for return to the school/program after an extended period away from the U.S.?

First, please ensure that you have a valid immigration document, either I-20 or DS-2019 with a recent signature from an ISSS advisor. The signature is located on the second page of your I-20 for F-1 students, or on the front of your DS-2019 for J-1 students and scholars.

For students and scholars whose immigration status shows as Active while away from the U.S., please inspect the validity of travel signature given by one of the ISSS advisors. The signature is valid for one year from the date signed, provided you did not graduate or otherwise interrupted your program (six months for F-1 students on OPT).

IMPORTANT: If you withdrew from school and from your F-1 immigration status while you were in your home country, please follow this ISSS web site on how to obtain a new I-20. If you are not sure which process for return to use, please contact ISSS at especially if you may have to apply for new visa.

If you realize that signature is no longer valid, your immigration category determines the document re-print and delivery process:

  • F-1 students**: During the Spring 2021 semester, your updated I-20 can be shared in a digital format by email from ISSS advisor. Please follow instructions from this ISSS travel web site to request an updated I-20.
  • J-1 students: Your DS-2019 with updated travel signature must be mailed as a hard copy to you using eShipGlobal service. Please submit a request in iHawk under “Other Services” menu.
  • J-1 scholars: Similar to J-1 students, you must obtain hard copy of your DS-2019 with new travel signature before returning to the US, provided your status has been kept Active.

**The guidance from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued in the Spring 2020 gives schools permission to send electronic I-20s with digital signatures added. The ISSS Advisor’s digital signature is valid for one year, or until the I-20 is updated and a new physical copy is created. Note:  this permission does not apply to J-1 students and J-1 scholars receiving new DS-2019 form that must still be mailed as hard copy.

If your program is scheduled to end in Spring 2021 and:

  1. You do not believe that you will be able to finish this semester for any reason, please apply for Program Extension to obtain new I-20 before traveling back to campus. You can complete the program extension request online from anywhere. ISSS can send I-20 documents by email during Spring 2021 semester. The DS-2019 forms must be shipped using eShipGlobal.
  2. You would like to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), please take some time to watch this presentation on how to apply for CPT/OPT. Please note that you must be present in the United States to apply for OPT.
  3. You do not wish to return to, or remain in the U.S., then you do not need to take any further action. 

For any other situations, or any additional questions, you can join our virtual walk-ins or call 319-335-0335 and speak to an ISSS advisor during regular business hours, or you can e-mail us at   
Updated: 02/19/2021


COVID-19 Health Resources

What do I do when I get sick with the new coronavirus symptoms? Do I report this?

If international student or scholar has symptoms consistent with the COVID-19 disease, they must seek medical assistance immediately. For details on the health care protocol to follow, please refer to this University website. You are welcome to also view this quick overview video on “What to do if you get sick”, prepared by the University.

All students and scholars should have health insurance coverage before contacting the health care provider in case they become ill with COVID-19 symptoms.

Students: Please remember that if you do not have health insurance from your home country or through other means, you are automatically enrolled in the University’s health insurance plan (showing as a charge in your UBill each semester).

Scholars: You are insured if you are participating actively in your J-1 exchange program as this is required by the law. Insurance enrollment is done at the beginning of your program.

To understand which treatments are covered during the course of the COVID-19 disease, please check the insurance policy that you received with your insurance plan. If you are not sure about your health insurance coverage, please contact the University Benefits Office. Testing for COVID-19 is not covered by insurance and must be paid out of pocket. Vaccine will be free of charge.

In addition, to report that you tested positive for COVID-19, or that you were in a close contact with someone else who did, please refer to this protocol on Self-Reporting.

Updated: 02/19/2021


What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?

As noted elsewhere in these FAQs, after international travel to the U.S., it is strongly recommended by CDC to quarantine for several days following the travel. This is to ensure that students and scholars are not carrying and/or transmitting the COVID-19 disease within the university and the surrounding communities if they have to be outside for certain lengths of time and around other people.

To help you better understand the difference between quarantine and isolation, we recommend this video prepared by the Director of Student Health at the University of Iowa, Dr. Paul Natvig.

From the onset of the pandemic, the University of Iowa has created that is regularly updated with new information related to instruction, safety protocols, health care and wellness resources and other useful information. We strongly encourage you to visit this site often!

Updated: 02/19/2021

How can I get a COVID-19 vaccine through the University of Iowa?

As the spring semester nears its end, we’d like to express our appreciation for your patience and persistence in meeting all the challenges posed by COVID-19 this past year. You made it through another semester of Zoom classes, social separation, and concerns over your health and well-being. We salute your resilience, and hope that the strength you showed this semester will provide reassurance to you in the days ahead. As we look toward the future, we must remain clear-eyed. Even if the situation is improving in Iowa and the United States in general, COVID is still with us, and countries such as India and Brazil continue to endure great suffering. International Programs stands in solidarity with students and scholars from India, Brazil, and throughout the world as we affirm our support during these difficult times.

As we combat COVID together, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves that masking, social distancing, and vaccination remain as important as ever. Vaccination resources exist on campus and we urge you to take advantage of them if you have not already done so.

Student Health has vaccines available and you can find a schedule of upcoming clinics and information on scheduling your appointment here.

You can always reach University Counseling Services (call 319-335-7294 or click here to schedule an appointment) and Student Care and Assistance (call 319-335-1162 or email


What is the University of Iowa guidance regarding the COVID-19 vaccine?

The University of Iowa strongly encourages students, faculty, and staff to receive the vaccine as soon as they are eligible, in consultation with their healthcare provider, but it is not mandatory.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, ‘the best COVID-19 vaccine is the first one that is available to you. Do not wait for a specific brand.’

If you wish to be vaccinated upon your arrival, please contact Student Health at 319-335-8394 to discuss your current vaccination status and vaccine availability.

Per CDC guidance for people vaccinated outside the United States:

  • People who were vaccinated outside the United States with an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine and have received all the recommended doses do not need any additional doses. 
    • Pfizer-BioNTech
    • Moderna
    • Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen
  • People who have received all recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that has been listed for emergency use by WHO do not need any additional doses with an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine.
  • People who have not received all the recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine listed for emergency use by WHO may be offered a complete FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine series.
  • People who received all or some of the recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that is neither authorized by FDA nor listed for emergency use by WHO may be offered a complete FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine series.

Updated 6/2/2021


What are the current restrictions and requirements to travel to the U.S.?

Travel Restrictions:

The following COVID-19 related Presidential Proclamations limit travel to the United States by individuals who were present in affected countries during the 14-day period prior to their planned entry to the United States. A Presidential Proclamation signed on March 11, 2020, added the European Schengen area to the existing restrictions applied to China and Iran. Effective March 16, 2020, the United Kingdom and Ireland were also added. Effective May 24, 2020, Brazil was added. Effective January 30, 2021, South Africa was added. The country-specific COVID-19 proclamations prevent any nonimmigrant from entering the U.S. directly from an affected country.

This means that any international student or scholar who travels from or through China, Iran, South Africa, Brazil, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom would have to spend 14 days in some other country before they could enter the United States. This is true even if you only have a connecting flight in one of these countries.

NOTE: It may be possible for an international student or scholar to receive a national interest exception to travel from some of the countries with the COVID-19 related Presidential Proclamations.

National Interest Exception:

F-1 Students: Students traveling from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland with valid F-1 visas do not need to contact a U.S. embassy or consulate to request an individual national interest exception to travel. Students applying for a new F-1 visa should check the status of the visa services at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Those applicants who are found to be qualified for an F-1 visa will automatically be considered for a national interest exception.

J-1 Students and J-1 Scholars: Students and scholars traveling from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland with valid J-1 visas or applying for a J-1 visa, should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate about the national interest exception before traveling. If a national interest exception is approved, students and scholars will be able to travel on a valid J-1 visa.

If you have any questions about how this will affect your travel plans, please visit ISSS Zoom walk-in hours, call 319-335-0335, or e-mail

COVID-19 Testing Requirements:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has guidance requiring all air passengers arriving to the United States from traveling internationally must get tested for COVID-19 no more than 3 days before their flight departs and to present the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight. For information about the testing requirement, visit the U.S. CDC website.

For information about after you travel, visit the U.S. CDC website.

Updated: 02/19/2021


How can I get a COVID-19 test before departing the U.S.?

International students and scholars traveling outside the U.S. may be required to meet international travel requirements for countries requiring both COVID-19 PCR and IgM antibodies negative tests shortly prior to boarding a flight. The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) is now offering these tests. Please expect to pay for these tests from your own pocket.

F-1 and J-1 Students: Students can have these tests arranged through Student Health. For information about these tests, please visit the Student Health website.

J-1 Scholars: Scholars can have these tests arranged by contacting their primary care provider or UI QuickCare.

Updated: 02/19/2021


If the CDC recommends COVID-19 testing for students arriving from an international destination, where can I get tested?

If the CDC recommends COVID-19 testing for students arriving from an international destination, testing will be administered by Student Health.