Dear Students:

Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete the brief survey that BIO shared with you last week. We received a lot of helpful comments and suggestions. We have answered some of the most common questions below:

1. I have an immediate need for financial assistance. Does the university and/or BIO have any aid available to international students?

BIO has a pool of funds that it can make available to students who are in need. Please meet with a BIO adviser through Virtual One-on-One Advising to discuss your financial situation. Those experiencing COVID-19-related financial emergencies may submit an application for BIO financial support via the following links. The deadline to apply is May 1st.

Undergraduate Students

Graduate Students

Parent Graduate Students

In addition, you may consider applying for a Student Emergency Loan. For those with need for food assistance, the Basic Needs Center and UC Berkeley Food Pantry offer a weekly grocery bag pick-up via signup. More information about their current services can be found on the Basic Needs Center COVID-19 Living Guide.

2. My I-20 or DS-2019 is expiring, and I can’t leave the U.S. due to flight issues. What can I do?

If your program is ending soon and you are unable to depart the United States, please notify Berkeley International Office to let us know about your situation. We urge you to also contact your home country’s local consulate or embassy in the U.S. for support and information regarding travel home. We will work with you to determine the best path forward.  Some options include:
  • Consider applying for post-completion employment:  F-1 OPT employment or J-1 Academic Training.  
  • Consider continuing your academic degree program into the summer if further enrollment is appropriate for you in your degree program. If you think it would be better for you to continue your degree program at this time, please contact a BIO adviser regarding your situation, so that we can determine your next steps. 
  • Consider applying for a change of status through USCIS to that of a tourist (B1/B2) visa. The USCIS website contains instructions, checklists, and filing tips. If you need further guidance then you may consider hiring an attorney.
3. My visa is expiring and I need to return home to extend the visa stamp in my passport. I fear that I will not be able to return. What should I do?

Please note that it is always important to make sure that your I-20 or DS-2019 has a future date on it to maintain its validity. So long as you remain in the U.S. with a valid I-20 or DS-2019 you are not required to extend the visa stamp in your passport. The visa in the passport only needs to be extended when you have departed and need to reenter the U.S. Accordingly, if you are presently in the U.S., your I-20 or DS-2019 is still valid, and your visa in your passport is expired, there is no need for you to make a trip just to extend the visa. 

4. Has anything changed with regard to OPT processes in light of COVID-19? What if I cannot find an employer within 90 days of the start date of my OPT?

There have been no changes to the application process for OPT. We have not received any guidance regarding the possibility of extending the period of time when someone is not engaged in employment while under OPT or OPT STEM Extensions. Please continue to check the USCIS website for updates or visit the USCIS COVID-19 response page regarding any changes to USCIS processing of requests. See the BIO OPT webpage and tutorial for information regarding unemployment, what can be considered “employment” during the OPT period — including unpaid internships or volunteer work.

If you are still finishing your degree and have concerns about your post-completion employment, you could also consider continuing your academic degree program, if further enrollment is appropriate for you in your degree program at this time. If you think it would be better for you to continue your degree program at this time, rather than continue with your OPT application, please contact a BIO adviser regarding your situation, so that we can determine your next steps.

BIO will continue to process all requests for OPT within a 3 day processing time, and we are doing our best to have these documents mailed out within a week.

5. Can you start processing CPT applications and extension requests sooner?

You can go ahead and submit your application. BIO has resumed processing of all requests, including all CPT and extension requests. Please note that we still have a 3 business day processing time limit in place and we are doing our best to mail out these documents within a week.

6. How can I obtain a travel signature to return home for the summer?

Please note that you do not need an updated travel endorsement on your I-20/DS-2019 to leave the country. You will only need it to apply for a new visa should you need one and/or for your reentry into the U.S.

Here are your options for obtaining an I-20/DS-2019 with a valid travel endorsement:
  • You may wait until the BIO office reopens. 
  • You can submit a replacement document request by email and BIO will mail you a new I-20/DS-2019 with a new travel endorsement.
7. I will be gone for more than 5 months. Can I still use the same visa in my passport?

The Department of Homeland Security has provided guidance indicating that students may enter the U.S. if they have departed the country for more than 5 months, so long as they have maintained their status while in the U.S. and they are in possession of a valid, unexpired visa in the passport. Be sure to properly maintain your student visa status while abroad and have all required travel documents for re-entry when you return.

8. I am experiencing difficulties with housing or I have temporary housing issues?

The Basic Needs Center offers services to those experiencing housing insecurity. Please refer to the Basic Needs Center COVID-19 Living Guide for more information. We will also communicate with the Housing Office about your housing needs as communicated in the survey responses including the desire for extended leases.

9. I am having difficulty adjusting to the time difference as it relates to class instruction. Can professors be more considerate?

BIO will communicate your concerns to campus leaders.

10. How soon will the campus make a decision about Fall instruction?

BIO will communicate with campus leaders about the importance of making a decision about the Fall semester as soon as possible.

11. There were several other questions that were raised that are better addressed in person. 

BIO has organized a general Q&A webinar session to address any questions or concerns you may have at this time. That webinar will take place on April 21, 2020 at 2:00 pm. PDT. Please register here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about how to join the webinar.

Also remember that you can contact BIO via email or use our Drop-in Advising hours for questions specific to your situation.

Finally, we recognize many of you are anxious and may be experiencing stress. We encourage you to learn about all the self care tips and other resources that are available to you during this difficult period. At the same time we want to remind and encourage all students to adhere to the university Principles of Community.

For those interested, the survey results will be posted on the BIO website.


Ivor Emmanuel
Berkeley International Office

Berkeley International Office

Our mailing address is:
Berkeley International Office
2150 Shattuck Ave Ste 500
Berkeley, CA 94704-1345

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