COVID-19 Updates and Your Foreign Fulbright Status
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting many higher education institutions in the United States. Your safety and well-being are the highest priority of your Fulbright sponsors, the U.S. Department of State, and Amideast. This section includes some helpful resources and information for Fulbright Foreign Student Program participants. As the COVID-19 pandemic is an evolving situation, we will continue to provide updated information as it becomes available.
- For the most current information regarding COVID-19 and measures you can take to protect yourself, please visit the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recommends that you employ everyday preventative actions to avoid contracting or spreading an illness. If you or a family member is sick, you should avoid public gatherings and travel. If you are sick, contact your local healthcare provider for evaluation and treatment, and inform your Amideast Advisor.
- U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories and Health Alerts
- For local resources, you should pay close attention to the local public health department in your state. For tips on how to prepare for a public health emergency, please visit ready.gov.
- Accident and Sickness Program for Exchanges (ASPE)
- ASPE Assist offers a 24-hour hotline for mental health consultation and advice if you feel at risk. (dial toll-free 1-833-963-1269, email: ASPEsupport@anvilgroup.com)
Frequently Asked Questions for Fulbright Foreign Students
Below please find the answers to questions you may have related to your Fulbright grant and COVID-19.
Should I stay at my university or can I travel within the U.S. or to my home country?
Since March 2020, the Fulbright Program has strongly recommended against any non-essential travel by Fulbright participants, both within the United States and internationally. Many U.S. states and foreign governments have adopted extraordinary measures to restrict movements across borders in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, and this situation continues to evolve. Therefore, conditions for future travel may become more challenging without notice, including the reduced availability of air tickets, closed borders, and heightened requirements for COVID testing and/or quarantine. If your university has moved to online coursework for part or all of the semester, you should continue to engage in remote classes from your U.S. host campus community.
During academic breaks, including over the summer, the Fulbright Program strongly encourages participants to remain in the U.S. at the host institution and in the host campus community to continue to engage in program-related activities.
If I decide to travel against Fulbright recommendations, what steps should I take?
Unexpected changes may have an impact on your Fulbright Program, so if you choose to travel outside of your U.S. host campus community at any point in your program, please be aware of the following:
- Per J-visa regulations, you are required to be physically living in the United States and participating in your Fulbright Program in the community where your U.S. host institution or Post-Degree Academic training provider is located, even if you are participating remotely.
- You will be responsible for the cost of any COVID testing required for travel. Note: See the ASPE Benefit Guide for explanation of benefits related to COVID testing.
- If you are unable to return to your U.S. host community to continue in your Fulbright Program activities, you may risk the continuation of your academic studies, research, or academic training due to loss of Fulbright funding, university funding, or J-visa sponsorship.
- You may be required to quarantine at your destination and/or upon return to your U.S. host community for up to 14 days in each location.
- Transportation, including flights, may be unexpectedly delayed or cancelled.
- You will be responsible for any additional costs incurred because your domestic or international travel is delayed or cancelled.
If you decide to travel against these recommendations, you must take the following actions prior to any travel:
- Report your travel plans to your Amideast Advisor. This is a requirement of your J-1 visa.
- Review the “SHORT-TERM TRAVEL OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES” section of your Fulbright-Amideast Foreign Student Handbook to confirm that you fulfill all re-entry requirements.
- Stay updated on any changes to your U.S. host institution’s academic calendar.
- Research the travel guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); federal, state, and local government officials; host university officials; and airlines.
- Comply with all COVID-19 testing or quarantine requirements prior to travel to or transit through another country and upon return to your U.S. host community.
- You must notify your Amideast Advisor if you are required to self-quarantine.
The above recommendations are in place to ensure the success of your Fulbright Program. If you have any questions about the above information, please contact your Amideast Advisor.
Is there any funding available if I decide to travel home?
No, there is no additional Fulbright funding available for this travel.
Note: Fulbright grant amounts may be adjusted for periods spent outside of the United States.
If I have to cancel any previously planned travel, what should I do?
If you had notified us of your travel plans and submitted an itinerary and your plans change, please email your Amideast Advisor so we can update your record.
My DS-2019 is not signed for travel, should I send it in for signature?
The Fulbright program recommends against non-essential travel at this time. Many governments have put extraordinary measures in place to restrict movements across borders in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. Therefore, conditions for future travel may become more challenging without notice, including reduced air service and requirements for quarantine. If you decide to travel internationally, it is at your own risk as your travel may be disrupted or delayed.
If you feel that your international travel is essential and you are aware of the risks of international travel, please review the “SHORT-TERM TRAVEL OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES” section of your Fulbright-Amideast Foreign Student Handbook and take the steps outlined to report travel and receive a DS-2019 travel validation signature. If you feel you urgently need a travel validation signature on your DS-2019 form, please contact your Amideast Advisor to arrange a DS-2019 signature.
Are there J-1 visa renewal delays at U.S. Embassies?
If your J-1 visa has expired, you should carefully consider the risks associated with international travel. Many U.S. embassies are operating on a modified schedule or have suspended non-immigrant visa services. You should check with the U.S. embassy in your home country for more information.
Note: The United States requires a National Interest Exception (NIE) annotation in a foreign passport for travelers arriving in the U.S. from, or transiting through, many countries around the world. For the latest list, please refer to: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news.html
What happens to my ASPE Health Benefits Plan if I travel outside the U.S.?
Your ASPE health benefits are not valid outside the United States. Your ASPE benefits will resume upon your re-entry into the United States.
I want to participate in Post-Degree Academic Training, what should I know?
If you plan to apply for approval to undertake Post-Degree Academic Training (PDAT), you should first consult with your Amideast Advisor. Participants must follow the usual PDAT guidance, secure a position, and submit the PDAT request form through their ASAP account at least six (6) weeks in advance of their program completion date. Please note that not all participants are eligible to participate in Post-Degree Academic Training and you must consult with your Amideast Advisor to confirm eligibility. You must be physically present in the United States to submit the PDAT request and you must begin the position – from the community where the PDAT host is located – within 30 days after your academic program ends. For more information about Post-Degree Academic training, please see the “Employment” section of the Grantee Resources website. If you have difficulty meeting the 6-week deadline, you should speak with your Amideast Advisor who will discuss your options on a case-by-case basis.
Many offices in my region of the United States have not resumed in-person activities, can I do a remote post-degree AT position?
You can request PDAT approval for a position that is remote in the United States as long as the supervisor confirms the plan for supervision and oversight in a remote environment and the intent is that the position will convert to an in-person position in the future. Your Amideast Advisor will guide you through these requirements. PDAT positions that are remote due to COVID-19 do have timeframe limitations and your Amideast Advisor can assist you with questions that you have. You should be physically present in the community where the PDAT host is located even if it is a remote position.
If I am currently participating in an Academic Training program or would like to do so, can I work from my home country?
Academic Training must be completed while you are in the United States. You cannot retain your J-1 status for Academic Training if you are outside the United States.
If my Post-Degree Academic Training (PDAT) is scheduled to finish within the next few months, what should I do?
You can either: 1) Remain in the United States and continue with your PDAT until the scheduled end date, or 2) If you decide to return to your home country before the end of your PDAT, your Academic Training and the validity of your DS-2019 and ASPE coverage will end when you depart the United States. 3) If you are eligible for additional PDAT, you can submit a new request within six (6) weeks of your current scheduled end date. If there is any change to the nature of your current Academic Training (i.e. your training opportunity has moved from in-person to online), please contact your Amideast Advisor and they will let you know if any further information is needed.
If I complete my degree remotely from outside the U.S. can I return to participate in Post-Degree Academic Training?
J-1 visa regulations stipulate that Academic Training must occur consecutive to completing the participant’s academic program in the United States. Therefore, if you complete your program outside the United States. you will not be eligible to return on J-visa sponsorship to participate in Post-Degree Academic Training.
I am remaining in the U.S. to complete my degree, what are my next steps for departure?
You will receive departure instructions from your Amideast Advisor. You should also review the Departure Forms section of the website and follow the departure guidance provided. You should depart according to your program end date and within the 30-day grace period.
As you prepare for departure, it is critical you confirm and plan in advance for any mandatory COVID-19 testing and possible quarantine measures required by your airlines for departure and home country for entry. ASPE provides benefits of up to $500 per Benefit Year for routine required tests in the United States, including for departure travel. See the “COVID-19 Testing Guidance for Fulbright Foreign Students and Visiting Scholars” section on this page for information on testing required for final departure travel.
I am currently in the United States completing academic year 2020-2021 and will be continuing my program. What are my next steps?
If you will continue your studies over the summer or in fall 2021, you should continue to engage full-time in your degree program for the final 2021 semester. You must remain in the U.S. community where your university is located and continue in accordance with your academic degree program schedule.
Due to uncertain conditions for travel, the Fulbright Program encourages participants to remain in the U.S. community of your host institution during academic breaks, including over the summer, and continue to engage in program-related activities.
If continuing in academic year 2021-22, you are expected to be located in your U.S. campus community for the start of fall 2021 term.
My school has announced a hybrid schedule and many courses are online, what is Fulbright guidance regarding how many online courses I can take?
You should continue to be registered full-time in your degree program classes. You must remain in the U.S. community where your university is located and continue in accordance with your academic degree program schedule. The Fulbright Program encourages you to engage in in-person exchange as much as is allowable and safe under the local public health guidance in the U.S. community where your university id located. On an exceptional basis, the Fulbright Program will allow participants to take more than one online class (you must notify your Amideast Advisor and note this in your Academic Progress Report) and you should consult with your academic advisor and continue to make progress in your degree program.
I started my Fulbright program virtually from my home country in the academic year 2020-2021. What are my next steps to continue my program?
If your host institution is offering in-person or hybrid classes, you are expected to come to the U.S. to continue your program in the host community of your U.S. institution. Continue to follow the instructions of the Fulbright office (Amideast field office, Bi-national Fulbright Commission, or U.S. Embassy) in your home country to submit documents necessary to arrive in person.
If your host institution has confirmed they are only offering online courses, please notify your Amideast Advisor and the Fulbright office in your home country for further instructions. If your academic program continues as virtual only, due to J visa regulations, you are unable to travel to the United States to continue your program.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) make recommendations to prioritize who should receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. Then each state makes its own plan for distribution. Please consult your state and local public health department and your university health center to determine when you may be eligible to receive the vaccine.
Universities and colleges in the U.S. determine medical and vaccination polices/requirements for their campus community. As institutions’ plans for requiring COVID-19 vaccinations develop, your host institution will be the best source of information on medical and vaccination requirements -- including any requirement for a COVID-19 test, quarantine, or vaccine. Please continue to monitor information provided by your host institution prior to your arrival on campus to ensure you understand how to meet your institution’s medical requirements.
If you have remained in your host country (the United States) to continue your program, the coronavirus should be covered similar to other illnesses or injuries, as listed in the ASPE benefits brochure and the standard procedures would be the same. If you have questions or concerns about your ASPE Health Benefits coverage, you should reach out to ASPE Seven Corners directly:
- Customer Service
1-800-461-0430 – Toll free
317-818-2867 – Worldwide
317-818-2809 – Collect
If you are a Fulbright Foreign Student Program participant who has remained in your host country (the United States) to continue your program, you are still eligible for assistance through ASPE Assist. ASPE provides a 24-hour hotline for mental health consultation and referral services. ASPE Assist offers mental health advice, crisis support, sexual assault response, violent crime response, and advice when participants may feel at risk. Consult the ASPE brochure for full details and see the Assist contact information below.
ASPE Assist Contact Information:
Toll free: 1-833-963-1269
The U.S. Department of State prioritizes the health, safety, and well-being of Fulbright Program participants. As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues, the Fulbright Program has adopted policies for participants who need COVID testing. Below please find the current guidelines for COVID-19 testing when it is required for international travel and/or by host institutions and communities.
For detailed information about COVID-19 related health benefits under your ASPE health benefits program, please refer to pages 22-23 of the ASPE health guide available on Grantee Resources page or at the following link https://www.sevencorners.com/gov/usdos
Participants with COVID symptoms: The Accident and Sickness Program for Exchanges (ASPE) covers participants while they are on program in the United States. If a participant has COVID symptoms, they should contact a medical provider. Under the ASPE health benefits program, COVID symptoms are treated as any other illness. If recommended by a medical provider, ASPE should cover the cost of diagnostic COVID testing and any required treatment. Normal ASPE procedures must be followed as outlined in the ASPE Benefits Guide. In some cases, treatment for diagnostic COVID testing and treatment may also be covered by host university insurance. ASPE does not cover dependents.
Participants without COVID symptoms: Currently and for a limited time, ASPE covers COVID testing for participants up to $500 during a benefit year. This includes testing required for travel and testing to meet host university or local community requirements but only for participants on program in the United States while their ASPE coverage is active. See the ASPE benefits guide for important exclusions and further information about testing. The Fulbright Program anticipates that most host institutions will provide COVID testing should they require it, or that free or low-cost testing will be available in the host community. In certain situations, the program will provide reimbursement for the cost of COVID testing for asymptomatic participants. Please see below for additional information about circumstances where COVID testing may be required before, during, and at the end of your program.
TRAVEL AND COVID-19 TESTING
Travel to the United States to begin a program: Before traveling to the United States, please determine any testing required for travel (by the airline or your host institution). Any testing for arrival in the United States is your logistical and financial responsibility. Reimbursement will not be provided.
Upon arrival in the United States: Before arriving in the United States, participants must determine any testing and/or quarantine requirements for your host institution and community as well as any other area you may transit through prior to arriving in your host community. You should contact your host university to confirm any state, local, or host university requirements. The Fulbright Program assumes that your host institution or community will provide any COVID testing that is required for asymptomatic participants. If testing is required, and free or low-cost testing is not available to you, for a limited time, ASPE may cover up to $500 for testing while you are on program in the United States. See the ASPE benefits guide for exclusions and further information about testing.
Departing the United States at the end of your program: As you prepare to depart the U.S. at the end of your Fulbright Program, it is critical that you confirm and schedule any mandatory COVID-19 testing required for departure from the United States, including for transit through a third country. You should also confirm any testing and/or quarantine restrictions needed upon arrival in your home country. Testing is often required within 48-96 hours before departure, but COVID testing is not readily available in many areas of the United States, so schedule your testing accordingly. When testing is required prior to departure, ASPE will cover up to $500 per benefit year. If you have already exceeded this limit at the time when you need testing for final departure travel, then you should seek free or low-cost testing resources in your host community. If these are not available, then you should contact your Amideast adviser immediately to discuss your situation.
Testing for non-essential travel: At this time, domestic and international travel for non-essential reasons is strongly discouraged and any travel, other than at the end of a program, is at the participant’s own risk and expense. Testing required for optional travel for you and your accompanying dependents is your logistical and financial responsibility. Reimbursement will not be provided.
COVID-19 TESTING DURING THE EXCHANGE PERIOD
Routine (asymptomatic) testing: Many U.S. universities have regular testing protocols in place in order to allow student/scholar access to campus facilities. If testing is not provided free of charge by the university or host institution, many cities, counties, and states have free or low-cost testing programs that Fulbrighters may utilize.
If testing is required, and free or low-cost testing is not available to you, you may use the $500 per benefit year maximum testing benefit that is currently in place for a limited time.
Testing after possible COVID-19 exposure: If you have come in contact with an individual with COVID-19, contact a medical provider. Even if you are asymptomatic, testing is recommended and may be required. In such cases participants are encouraged to utilize testing options provided through their host universities or local communities. Again, many cities, counties, and states have free or low-cost testing programs that Fulbrighters may utilize.
If testing is mandated, and free or no-cost testing is not provided, you may use the $500 per benefit year maximum testing benefit that is currently in place for a limited time. The cost of any testing required for dependents is the financial responsibility of the participant, including through the dependents’ private insurance.
Optional testing that is not covered by or exceeds the current limited time ASPE benefit of $500 per benefit year is neither covered by ASPE nor the Fulbright Program. The Fulbright Program will not consider reimbursement for elective tests that exceed this limit if taken without cause and/or the recommendation of a medical provider. Please review the ASPE benefits guide for further details.
Please contact your Amideast adviser with any questions.
The intention of the Fulbright Program is for in-person exchange in the United States. Many offices in the United States are resuming in-person activities, and exceptional approval of full-time remote Post-Degree Academic Training positions will not be granted beyond August 31, 2021. Any new or continuing PDAT positions should engage in-person at the Academic Training site by September 1. Your Amideast Advisor will guide you through these requirements.