On March 7, 2021, the University of South Carolina announced that it plans a full return to face-to-face classes for the Fall 2021 semester. For more information, see the official announcement here.
As an international student, you are probably wondering what this means for you. To the international students who are still in Columbia, the return to fully face-to-face classes might be a welcome relief or it might be bittersweet as we have adjusted to days filled with Blackboard, Zoom, and Teams collaboration.
If you are currently abroad and are taking classes from a distance, then you likely have additional concerns. Please consider the following suggestions as you prepare for the Fall 2021 semester.
- Plan to return to Columbia, South Carolina by August 19, 2021. If you have a currently valid F-1 visa and an active F-1 SEVIS record, you do not
need to do anything at this time.
- If you have an expired visa: You will need to obtain a new F-1 visa before reentering the U.S. On July 13, 2020, the U.S. Department of State tweeted that they are beginning the phased resumption of routine visa services. This means that U.S. Consulates are issuing F-1 visas. However, visa appointment wait times are likely longer than usual and the consulate closest to you may not be issuing visas. ISS recommends that you check with the respective consulate in your home country for more details. If you cannot find visa appointment availability in your home country, it might be possible to apply for an F-1 visa in a third country.
- If your SEVIS record is no longer active: If you took a leave of absence or did not enroll full-time during your time away from the U.S., you will need to obtain a new I-20 before reentering. IF this is you, you need to complete the following forms:
- Plan your travel back to Columbia, South Carolina now. If you are from China, Iran, Brazil, or South Africa, you will need to transit through a third country for 14 days before entering the
U.S. If it is possible for you to travel through Canada or Mexico, travelers can cross
the border by land or air after presence in the respective country for 14 days. You
might also consider transiting through Europe or a number of other countries.
- If you are traveling from the Schengen area of Europe, the United Kingdom, or the Republic of Ireland, you may qualify for a National Interest Exemption based on your F-1 visa. This means that you should be able to enter the U.S. directly.
- Make sure that you follow the proper COVID test protocol before traveling to the U.S. For more details, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
- If you absolutely have no way to reenter the U.S. before August 2021: you should explore Fall 2021 Master Schedule (available on Self Service Carolina) to see if there are opportunities to enroll in online classes that allow appropriate degree progression. Consult with your academic advisor as necessary to determine which online classes are appropriate. Keep in mind that things are rapidly changing as more individuals get the vaccine and as COVID transmission rates hopefully continue to improve. If it seems unlikely that you will be able to reenter now, ISS suggests that you continue to actively monitor travel and visa updates. We have seen students successfully enter from banned countries by staying vigilant and attune to visa appointment opportunities and to other updates.
The University of South Carolina understands that the return to face-to-face classes in Fall 2021 will require additional forethought and planning for our students who are currently outside of the U.S. We are here for you and will support you in every way possible to ensure that you are able to return to the U.S. to continue your studies. Know that we are continuing to be vigilant about safety and mitigation strategies to ensure that our campus is a safe place for you.