The FAQs below address common questions about UAB's plans for Spring 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic in general. Please read through all of these questions before contacting ISSS, your academic advisor, or your coach. We understand that some students may have a unique situation and that you may be concerned about your arrival on campus for Spring 2021. If you are a current UAB student and have additional questions or concerns after reading these questions, please attend our weekly Virtual Coffee Hour every Friday at 11:00 AM CST (details in the Globetrotter). If your question isn’t answered during Coffee Hour, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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SPRING 2021 Courses

What are hybrid classes? How can I tell if a class is online or hybrid?

UAB’s Center for Teaching and Learning describes all of UAB’s modes of instruction on their website here: If you have questions about specific courses, please contact your academic advisor or instructor to learn more about exactly what kind of class it is. ISSS has no information about specific courses.

How many online courses can I take for the Spring 2021 semester?

Returning and current UAB F-1 students inside the US are allowed to enroll in a fully online course load for the Spring 2021 semester. However, new students who are a) enrolling in their first semester and b) physically present in the US must register for at least one on-campus hybrid course.

As a continuing student, can I remain in the US and take only online classes during the Spring 2021 semester and maintain my F-1 status?

Yes. Continuing students can enroll in only online classes inside the US. As mentioned in the previous question, new students physically present in the US are required to register for at least one on-campus hybrid course.

Do I still need to enroll in the minimum 9 (graduate) or 12 (undergraduate) credit hours required for F-1 students?

Yes. These are still the minimum number of hours to be considered full-time for purposes of your F-1 status and to keep your SEVIS record active, whether you are inside or outside the US.

I’m currently back in my home country now. Can I take online classes from my home country if I cannot, or do not want to, fly back to the US?

Yes. Continuing and new students can take online classes from their home country; however, to maintain your F-1 status you will need to enroll full- time (12 hours for undergraduates/ 9 hours for graduates). If you do not enroll, or only enroll part -ttime (without an authorized reason), you’ll need to submit an Authorized Early Withdrawal Form to cover the Spring 2021 semester. Later, at least 60 days, but no more than 90 days, before you’re ready to enter the US to begin studying on campus for the Summer or Fall 2021 semester, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and let us know. An ISSS immigration advisor will then reactivate your SEVIS record and send you a new Form I-20 to enter the US.

The “five-month” rule is currently suspended, but we do not know how much longer that will continue. If SEVP reinstates the five-month rule, your current I-20 will no longer be valid, and ISSS must issue you a new Form I-20 with a new SEVIS number. In that case, you must pay the I-901 SEVIS fee again ($350). You may also lose time accrued for OPT or CPT eligibility. We will let you know if the five-month rule goes back into effect.

I plan to remain outside the US for the Spring 2021 semester, but a required course for my degree is not offered remotely or online. Can I enroll in a hybrid course and take it outside the US?

F-1 and J-1 students who wish to enroll in a hybrid course, but will not be able to return to the US for in person classes, should contact the course instructor or their department directly. Any exceptions to the on-campus component of hybrid courses must be determined by the instructor or academic department. ISSS does not make academic exception decisions — we advise only on immigration matters.

I plan to be on-campus in the US for the Spring 2021 semester and will be studying in an Accelerated Pathway or Integrated Master’s Program. Will I be enrolled in online classes?

Your Pathway advisors will register you in the appropriate number and type of classes. ISSS does not register students for classes. Please send course enrollment questions to your academic or Pathway advisor.

I plan to be on-campus in the US for the Spring 2021 semester and will be studying in an Academic English or Standard Pathway program. Will I be enrolled in online classes?

Your Academic English and Pathway advisors will register you in the appropriate number and type of classes. Academic English and Pathway students will be enrolled only in in-person or hybrid classes (not “Q” classes). ISSS does not register students for classes and cannot change your schedule. Please send course enrollment questions to your Academic English or Pathway advisor.

I-20 and Visa Issues

How can I apply for a visa?

You received specific information about paying your the SEVIS fee and applying for an F-1 visa during the admissions and I-20 issuance process. Please follow those instructions and consult the Visa Appointment Wait Times website for specific consulate/embassy instructions.

What if I don’t get a visa in time? Will I be penalized if I arrive late for class?

Attendance policies vary by course and program. If you know you will arrive late because of visa delays, please notify your academic advisor or instructor, immediately. If they approve your late arrival and believe that you can still complete course requirements,they can provide a letter stating that they are aware of the delay and approve your late arrival, and you can provide that letter to the Department of State during your visa interview, or to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the US airport.

I am a returning/continuing student and want to take the Spring 2021 semester off and not enroll in any classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What will happen to my F-1 visa and Form I-20?

As previously mentioned, ISSS must terminate your SEVIS record (which controls your I-20) and re-activate it before you return to the US. Remember: the F-1 visa in your passport and your Form I-20 serve different purposes. The F-1 visa stamp in your passport is primarily a “travel ticket” that must be valid any time you want to enter the US as a student, with very limited exceptions. The Form I-20 validates your F-1 status once you are inside the US and must be registered as “Active” in the SEVIS database while you are inside the US, or if you plan to travel to the US on your F-1 visa for study. If you will remain outside the US for Spring 2021 and not enroll in any classes, check the expiration date on your F-1 visa and contact ISSS before re-entering the US later in 2021. We need to make sure your SEVIS record is “Active” in the government database before you travel.

If your SEVIS record is not Active and you try to re-enter the US on a terminated I-20, the CBP officer at the airport may deny your entry, or send you to secondary inspection for follow-up questions about why you tried to enter with a terminated I-20. You MUST contact ISSS before traveling if you’re unsure whether your SEVIS record is Active. DO NOT TRY TO ENTER THE US ON A TERMINATED I-20. CBP officers are instructed not to let you in. You may get lucky and be issuedreceive a Form I-515 (which ISSS can help you with later), but the government’s policy is that CBP will NOT let you into the US if your SEVIS record is terminated, even if you think your I-20 is still valid.

I am an international student currently outside the US who wishes to return to UAB campus for spring 2021. Do I need to receive a new Form I-20 document with added remarks, or any other paperwork, to enter the US?

According to the most recent SEVP guidance updated 08/07/20, I-20 forms do not need to be reissued for returning students do not need a new Form I-20. You still must travel with a valid F-1 visa and most recent Form I-20 (endorsed for travel within the last year). We also recommend bringing proof of your Sspring 2021 registration in BlazerNET) and information regarding UAB’s fall hybrid plan easily accessible on your phone (or a printout) to show the CBP officer at the airport in the event they want to see confirmation of UAB’s hybrid model:

Travel letters are not required for returning students to re-enter the US. Only your valid I-20 (associated with an Active SEVIS record) and valid F-1 visa are necessary for travel. More information about travel is available on our International Travel and Visas website.

I am a new student for Spring 2021. I have received my Form I-20, but I cannot get a visa appointment because the US consulate/embassy near me is closed. What are my options?

All F-1 students (except citizens of Canada and Bermuda) must have a physical F-1 visa stamp in their passport before entering the US to begin their classes. If you are not able to schedule a visa appointment in your home country before the sSpring 2021 semester begins, you must remain outside the US and enroll in UAB classes online. ISSS will send you an updated Form I-20 with a May or August 2021 start date so that you can hopefully get a visa interview in time to enter the US for the start of the sSummer or fFall 2021 semester.

Consulartes may be able to expedite your appointment if there is an urgent situation such as a school start date. The process to request an expedited nonimmigrant visa interview varies by location. Read the instructions on the website of the Embassy or Consulate Visa Section where you will interview, or on their online appointment scheduling site. You will need to provide proof of the need for an expedited appointment, such as a printout of the UAB Fall 2021 academic calendar and your admission letter.


I want to travel home between the end of the FALL 2020 semester and the beginning of the SPRING 2021 semester, but my F-1 visa has expired. Will I be able to re-enter the US for spring classes?

You cannot enter the US on an expired visa, even with a valid I-20. Many US consulates and embassies are offering only “emergency only” appointments. If you leave the US on an expired visa, it could take weeks or months for you to get an appointment to obtain a new F-1 visa to re-enter. Weigh the risks carefully before making travel plans, and always buy travel insurance in case you need to cancel or rebook a flight. We do not recommend traveling internationally over the holidays on an expired visa.

I am currently in one of the countries on the restricted travel list (China, Iran, Brazil). How/when can I re-enter the US?

No one knows when the restrictions will be lifted. The President has broad authority over travel bans during times of emergency, and until the White House specifically announces otherwise, the suspension will remain in effect indefinitely (even under the new administration). The suspension states that anyone who has spent time in countries on the restricted list in the last 14 days is prohibited from entering the US. Please monitor the CDC website for the most current information about your ability to enter the US. You may wish to travel to a country not on the above list for fourteen days and then enter the US from there. ISSS and UAB cannot provide individualized flight plans, as we have over 1,000 international students from over 80 countries, and the regulations can change based on public health concerns. The best sources of information are the CDC, the US Department of State, and the website of the airline where you book your tickets. Certain US airports are offering enhanced screening or requiring passengers from certain countries to arrive there. A list is available on the Homeland Security website. ISSS cannot promise that a CBP officer will let you into the US, and you may need to apply for a visa even to enter a third country before entering the US. Travel restrictions change on a practically daily basis. ISSS/UAB is not responsible for the cost of any visas, transportation, or accommodation fees you accumulate trying to enter the US through a third country.

I am from one of the EU Schengen Area countries. Am I permitted to enter the US to continue my studies as an F-1 visa holder?

Yes, the US State Department announced that students traveling from the Schengen Area, the UK, and Ireland with a valid F-1 visa and Active I-20/SEVIS record can enter the US, and do not need too seek an individual national interest waiver. Your I-20 and F-1 visa will be enough to enter the US. Please see the US State Department website for more information.

I am currently outside the US and am considering entering the US a few weeks after the semester starts. Is it possible to enter the US in the middle of the semester?

Yes, as long as theyouy have an “Active” I-20 signed for travel and a valid F-1 visa. Students who are tryingwant to enter the US but are experiencing flight cancellations or delays can study both outside the US and inside the US during the spring semester if needed.

I don’t want to take Spring 2021 classes and I am trying to depart the US and return to my home country. However, my flight home has been cancelled. Can I remain in the US without enrolling in classes?

No. If you will not enroll in Spring 2021 classes for the spring semester, then you must immediately complete an Authorized Early Withdrawal form and email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. as soon as possible. Students who do not enroll in Spring 2021 full-time (or with an approved reduced course load) cannot remain in the US legally. The entire purpose of your F-1 visa and Form I-20 is for you to enroll in classes while in the United States.

ISSS must take or terminate all I-20 records in the government’s SEVIS database within 30 days of the semester start date. ISSS will register eEnrolled students as ”Aactive” in SEVIS, and will “Terminate” the I-20 records of students who are not registered for Spring 2021 classes. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. immeditely if you will not enroll in Spring 2021 classes and cannot depart the US within 15 days of the spring semester start date.

Employment and Scholarships

I plan to remain outside the US for the Spring 2021 semester. Will I be able to receive my academic scholarship?

Yes, undergraduate F-1 students will continue to receive scholarship money if they are eligible while studying outside the US. Students still must meet the minimum requirements to retain their scholarship (i.e., enroll be full-time in Spring and Fall semesters, while maintaining a 3.0 GPA). Graduate students who have been awarded scholarships should email the Graduate School at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to confirm eligibility.

If I am outside the US and finish my degree in Spring 2021 by taking online classes in my home country, can I still apply for OPT work authorization?

No. Students who are not physically present in the US duringor the Spring 2021 semester cannot file OPT applications. Page 4 of the Form I-765 expressly states that it must be filed from within the US. The Department of Homeland Security/USCIS, which controls review of OPT applications, has not provided any guidance changing this rule. There are many logistical considerations (international financial transactions, passport photos, etc.).

Students who are physically present in the US for the Spring 2021 semester can apply for OPT/STEM OPT with USCIS as usual. For forms and instructions, please see our F-1 Optional Practical Training website and watch the Globetrotter for OPT workshop announcements.

Will I still be eligible for OPT and CPT if I remain outside the US for the Spring 2021 semester?

Yes, assuming you have already completed two semesters of full-time study. Please also know, you must be inside the US to submit an OPT application to USCIS (see the first question in this section). USCIS has not announced that it will accept I-765 work authorization request forms filed by students who are outside the United States.

I am supposed to receive an assistantship with stipend from the UAB Graduate School, but I will not be in the US for the Spring 2021 semester. Will I still get receive my stipend?

No, due to international tax implications beyond ISSS control. For many international students at the doctoral (PhD) level who were anticipating a GA, GTA, or GRA, the best option may be a deferral. Please contact your advisor or program director directly to discuss options. ISSS does not award stipends and is not involved in stipend decisions.

Tuition and fees can be paid by UAB (department, program, or Blazer Graduate Research Fellowship) for international students outside the US, if you are enrolled in a program for which UAB typically pays tuition and fees. However, in accordance with state residency laws and UA System Board Rule 202, tuition will be charged at the non-resident international rate for graduate students, which varies by school/college. Current tuition rates can be found here.

Please direct questions about stipends to the Graduate School Director of Administration and Fiscal Affairs, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


I am a faculty member. Where can I find resources to learn more about UAB’s Spring 2021 modes of instruction?

The UAB Center for Teaching and Learning has developed a great set of FAQs that can be found here.

I am a program director, chair, or academic advisor. Can my F-1 international students enroll exclusively in remote/online/distance classes for Spring 2021?

>Yes, if they are continuing students, according to the most recent US government guidance. New students coming to UAB for their first semester in the US must enroll in at least one hybrid or in-person course.

Housing, Insurance and Entry to Campus

I don’t know if I want to sign a year-long lease. How can I find short-term housing for the Spring 2021 semester?

I plan to leave the US and want to end my apartment lease early, but my landlord won’t let me. What can I do?

Please contact the UAB Office of Off-Campus Student Services. If you need assistance changing the terms of your current lease, or think you need legal assistance to deal with your landlord, please contact the Birmingham Volunteer Lawyers Program. You could also try subletting your room to another student who plans to remain in Birmingham for the spring semester. ISSS cannot assist with tenant-landlord disputes.

Do I need an insurance waiver if I won’t be in the US for Spring 2021?

Please review the Student Health Services website and contact UAB Student Health Services for all questions about health insurance and waivers.

Will I have to be tested for COVID-19 when I arrive in Birmingham?

Only students planning to live on campus (in UAB housing) during the Spring 2021 semester must receive a COVID-19 test. Testing will be done January 15-18 at Bartow Arena. Students who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or who have had close contact with someone who has tested positive, can contact Student Health and Wellness for information regarding local testing sites. There are currently no plans for mandatory quarantines, unless a student tests positive for COVID-19. Please direct all questions regarding COVID-19 testing to UAB Student Health Services. Additional re-entry information, including a checklist, can be found on the UAB United website.