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Fall 2020 Q&As for International Students (Continuing and Incoming)

Page updated July 7, 2020

1. I am an incoming master’s student, but am having issues obtaining my visa. Can I still enroll in online courses?

Master’s students are not required to have valid visas to take courses online from outside of the U.S. Self-paying master’s students can register for online courses and pay their own tuition. Students receiving tuition scholarships can apply those scholarships to their tuition bill. Consult your Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) about potential online coursework. 

Incoming master’s students who cannot travel to Durham will not be able to receive compensatory stipends (e.g., teaching or research assistantships). Non-compensatory stipends are allowed for incoming international master’s students who are in the U.S. but not in residence.


2. I am an incoming Ph.D. student, but am having issues obtaining my visa. Is there a way for me to enroll in online courses and begin my degree program?

The pandemic has created a number of difficult circumstances, including this one. It may be possible for you to receive a tuition scholarship and take courses remotely, subject to a number of conditions and limitations. 


  • The relevant school and program choose to make this option available.


  • You will not be able to receive a compensatory stipend or Duke-sponsored health insurance until you are able to travel to Durham (non-compensatory stipends are allowed for incoming domestic students and incoming international students who are in the U.S.).
  • You will have to be able to take courses at the times offered.
  • You must be in residence no later than Fall 2021 to continue in your degree program.


3. I am a returning master’s student or returning PhD student with a current visa, but I need to participate or work remotely. What are my options?

Even if continuing international students cannot arrive in the U.S. to take classes on campus, if they have a valid I-20, they can enroll in continuation (CTN) and take online courses, if an appropriate curriculum of Duke online courses is available for degree credit (as determined by the DGS). 

No students are allowed to receive compensatory stipends for activity (e.g., RAships, TAships,  or GAships) undertaken outside of the U.S., whether they are U.S. citizens, Green Card holders, or visa holders.

Scholarships and stipends can be provided for students who do not provide services (that is, the position is appropriate for non-compensatory payroll).


4. I am a returning graduate student with a valid I-20 but do not have a current visa stamp in my passport. What are my options?

The suspension of visa services by the United States government has important implications for many current students as well as incoming students.  We describe the most common situations below.  As long as a current student has a valid I-20 and has not left the U.S., the student does not need a current visa stamp in the passport.

Students who leave the U.S. are allowed to remain active for some period (a few weeks) while waiting for visa renewal, but if the visa is not renewed, they will be put on leave of absence for the current term and/or the next term, depending on dates. If a student is out of the country on a leave of absence for more than 5 months, they will need a new I-20.

If a visa is denied, but the student wishes to try to obtain a new I-20 and visa once visa offices reopen, Duke will place the student on leave of absence and close the student’s SEVIS file. After the LOA term(s) has expired, if the student still does not have new documents to study in U.S., he or she would eventually be withdrawn from the university.  


5. I am a continuing international Ph.D. student, and am currently residing in the United States but not in North Carolina. Will I receive my stipend if I am not on campus?

If you are planning to receive a non-service stipend (e.g., fellowship), payments can continue provided there is no service requirement.

If you are planning to receive a service-based compensatory stipend (e.g., assistantship) and are located in California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, or Washington, D.C., then you will receive your stipend.

If you were hoping to receive a service-based compensatory stipend and are located outside of the U.S., you cannot receive a stipend. No students are allowed to receive a compensatory stipend for activity undertaken outside of the U.S., whether they are U.S. citizens, Green Card holders, or visa holders.


6. I am a new student and received a visa stamp, but I decided not to come to Duke for Fall Semester. What should I do?

The student should return the I-20/DS-2019 to Duke Visa Services. If the academic program approves a deferral to Spring 2021 or Fall 2021, we will update the SEVIS file and issue a new I-20 accordingly.

The student’s F-1 status will start at the time of enrollment.


7. If I start classes online and outside the U.S. for the Fall, but receive a visa and can get a flight to enter the U.S. during the fall, can I continue my full-time online enrollment in the U.S. during the Fall?

International master’s and Ph.D. students with F-1 visas typically may only take one online course per semester. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) waived the one-course limit on remote participation by F-visa students for spring and summer 2020. We do not yet have final clarity about whether these students will be able to take full-time online course loads in the coming term. The expectation is that universities will receive a similar dispensation so long as they are operating under a special COVID-19 framework.  We will confirm that as soon as we receive official guidance from ICE.

Update (7/7): On July 6, ICE modified the exemption, which now states:

Temporary exemptions for the fall 2020 semester include:

  • Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States. Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status. If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.

  • Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools operating under normal in-person classes are bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students may take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.

  • Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” certifying that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program. The above exemptions do not apply to F-1 students in English language training programs or M-1 students pursing vocational degrees, who are not permitted to enroll in any online courses.

The university is working to understand the full implication this has for our international students and what options might be available. We will provide more information as soon as we can.


8. I graduated in May, but am worried about returning to my home country. What are my options?

International students who have graduated but are concerned about going home in the pandemic should contact their Duke Visa Services departmental liaison to discuss available options by no later than July 9, 2020. They have 60 days from degree conferral to leave the US, with additional possibilities in some cases.


9. I’m an international student and am wondering about the Immigration paperwork necessary if I begin (or continue, if I am a current student) my coursework online.
  • New students: The start date on your I-20 must reflect the start date of the first semester after your arrival in the U.S. If we have already issued an I-20 for Fall 2020 with a Fall 2020 start date, but you cannot arrive into the U.S. until Spring 2021, then we must change the start date and issue a new I-20 with the Spring 2021 start date. You should return the old I-20/DS-2019 to Duke Visa Services. If we did not yet issue the I-20 for Fall 2020 and you start in Spring 2021, we will issue the I-20 with the Spring 2021 start date.
  • Continuing students: If you have a current I-20, we are not required to issue a new I-20 if you requested a travel signature before departure. If you did not request a travel signature, we will send a letter that can be used with the I-20 so that you can enter the U.S.


10. Is the tuition less for students who will take classes remotely than for students who will take the classes on the Duke campus?

No, tuition charges are the same.


11. I’m interested in the possibility of starting my master’s degree at DKU and going to Duke when my visa is approved. Can you tell me more about this possibility?

We will not be able to accommodate all master’s degree programs that would like to start classes at DKU in Fall 2020. We are working now on which master’s programs can be accommodated at DKU. We will notify admitted students about these programs as soon as possible. If you are not notified, this means that we are not able to accommodate this program at DKU.

If we are able to accommodate your program at DKU, we anticipate offering face-to-face instruction as well as housing. Tuition charges will remain the same, but housing and board costs will differ. As a result, your total cost of attendance will change, and we will apprise you of the revised amount.


12. I’m an incoming international student in a Duke two-year master’s program. I am thinking of starting the program online. I hope to be able to get to Durham in Spring 2021 for face-to-face instruction. I very much want to do CPT or OPT in summer 2021. Will this be possible?

Practical training (CPT or OPT) is typically only authorized for F-1 students who have been enrolled in a U.S. institution on a full time basis for one full academic year.

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT): Current information per U.S. visa services indicates that you would not qualify for CPT unless you have completed two full semesters on campus as an F-1 student. For CPT, exceptions to the one academic year requirement as an F-1 student are only provided if you are enrolled in graduate studies that require immediate participation in curricular practical training.
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT): Current information per U.S. visa services indicates that you would not qualify for OPT unless you have completed two full semesters on campus as an F-1 student.


13. When are international students eligible to return to Durham, or to come to Durham for the first time?

This answer depends on at least three factors: (1) what is the status of the Durham campus, (2) what is the visa status of the student, and (3) where is the student.

  • Duke University has announced that its goal is to enable as many students who are able and who choose to participate in an on-campus experience for the fall semester to do so, but only if it can be done safely. Significant details about the fall semester have not yet been announced, but we do know that graduate and undergraduate classes will begin August 17, with graduate student orientation starting August 10.
  • If you are a new international student who will need a visa to enter the U.S., the consulates are closed and have not posted the date they will reopen. Keep in mind there will be a backlog of visa requests when the consulates reopen.
  • If you are an international student who is transferring from another school or university in the U.S., and you did not leave the U.S., the current school can transfer the SEVIS files to Duke and you can start classes in Durham when Duke University reopens.
  • If you are a continuing international student and you did not leave the U.S., you can start classes when Duke University reopens.
  • If you are a continuing international student, and you left the U.S., and your visa is valid for reentry, and you are not subject to the COVID-19 quarantine country policy per the President’s proclamation, you should be able to re-enter the U.S. and start classes when Duke University reopens.
  • If you are a continuing international student, and you left the U.S., and you need a new visa to reenter, you will likely face the same problems that a new student with no visa will have. In addition, if you are subject to the COVID-19 quarantine, there will be an additional delay.


14. Are there international students currently residing in the U.S. who will need their visas renewed in order to stay?

A valid visa is not required to remain in the U.S., so no one should leave the U.S. just to get a visa renewed. A valid I-20 or DS-2019 is required to stay in the U.S. and is valid based on enrollment in a degree program.

F-1 students graduating in May have a 60-day grace period to remain in the U.S. after graduation. These students can also apply for work authorization which will allow them to stay for an additional 90 days to seek employment and 12 months if they find employment before the 90 days end.

Some students may have received admission from other U.S. schools (for example, to enter graduate school) and can request that their SEVIS file be transferred to the new school so they can stay in the U.S. during the summer.

J-1 students have a 30-day grace period after graduation and can apply for academic training before graduation (if they can find employment). The transfer option to a new academic program is also available.