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COVID-19 Updates for International Students

Frequently Asked Questions


Q: If I am having issues with my host family, who can help me?

A: The Homestay staff cannot schedule in-person meetings with students and host families at this time but they can still assist through emails and phone calls. For urgent matters, please email or call the Housing Coordinator, Julnar Msalam, at 650-645-0479.

Q: Can I request to be matched with a new host family right now?

A: Yes, if for whatever reason you would like to be matched with a new host family, please fill out the Homestay Relocation Request Form. To assist students during this difficult time, the $100 Change Fee will be waived. 

IQ: How can I ask my host family to be quiet while I attend my online classes or do homework?

A: Since all classes have moved online, and your host parents are most likely working from home too, be sure to provide each other with enough space to get work done. Whether you study inside your bedroom or out in the living room, let them know when your online classes are so they can be mindful of the noise level. They will appreciate it too if you are quiet while they take work-related calls. 

Q: If I have Housing Option 1 or 3, what am I supposed to do about lunch?

A: If you have Option 1 or 3, your host will usually provide you with breakfast and dinner, but not lunch. Since this is a very unique situation, please communicate with your host parents about your lunch options. If your host is able to provide you with lunch for free, be grateful and show your appreciation. If they are unable to, ask them to take you to a nearby grocery store so you can pick up some food to prepare your own lunch every day. Be mindful and respectful that this is a very tough time for your host family as well, so do not expect free meals.

Q: I am unable to pay rent on time this month, what should I tell my host?

A: For whatever reason, if you are unable to access your funds from abroad during this time, please give your host family advance notice and ask for their consideration. Most host families will be understanding and give you some time to figure out your finances. However, if your host asks that you continue to make your monthly payment on time (which they are legally allowed to do), please inform the Homestay staff immediately. Unfortunately, they are unable to place you with another host family at this time, so you might need to relocate to an Airbnb or hotel. For other housing resources, check HERE.

Q: Can I keep my belongings at the homestay while I am back in my home country for the rest fo the semester?

A: If you decide to return home for the rest of the semester, you cannot keep your belongings at the homestay unless you continue to pay rent while you are away. Please note that there is no guarantee that you will be matched with the same host family upon your return either. As stated on your contract, you must give your host a 30-day notice before moving out or you risk losing all of your $500 deposit. 

Q: If I move out, do I still have to wait up to 30 days to get my deposit back?

A: The Homestay Coordinator has emailed all host families and asked them to be flexible during this time. They have been asked to evaluate the condition of your bedroom and bathroom on the same day that you move out, and return your deposit that day as well. In order to get all $500 of your deposit back, you must return the bedroom and bathroom in the same condition that you found it. Make sure to clean up, take out the trash, and get rid of stains before asking the host to evaluate your room. If you suddenly leave without letting your host know, you will not get any of your deposit back. 

Q: Can I still go on campus?

A: Cañada College, College of San Mateo, and Skyline College campuses are closed to all students through April 5. Students should not come to campus. This is due to the transition to online and distance education. Offices and student services (such as SparkPoint, EOPS, health centers, international student offices, and all others) will not be available.

Q: Are all my classes online now?

A: All classes that were formerly face-to-face classes have resumed on Tuesday, March 17, as online classes. Please check your email frequently for communications from your instructor regarding the specifics of how your class is moving online. At this time, the SMCCD has only confirmed the transition to primarily online course delivery from March 17 to April 5. All decisions beyond April 5 will be announced on the website:

Q: I am struggling with my online classes. Where can I get help?

A: The District has launched a Virtual Campus for Students website to help facilitate your transition to online learning. The Virtual Campus is designed to make it easy for you to get the basic tools you will need to succeed in an online learning environment. These tools include your college-provided student email, the online learning management system called Canvas, and Zoom which will be used to host online class meetings. You may already be familiar with one or more of these tools. We know that online learning may require skills and resources that are less familiar to you, so the Virtual Campus also has high-level tutorials, support, and campus resources to help with the transition. The Virtual Campus will be updated on a regular basis to reflect the latest information. Additionally, sections pertaining to online tutoring will be added as that capability comes online. 

Q: What should I do if I need medical assistance?

A: If you require medical assistance and have health insurance, please call the phone number on the back of your insurance card to find out which healthcare facilities are covered under your insurance plan.  If you do not have health insurance and you are in San Mateo County, San Mateo Medical Center is an option for you. Their phone number is 650-573-2222 and their address is 222 W 39th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94403.

CALL YOUR HEALTH PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms such as cough and difficulty breathing. If you are experiencing a medical or psychiatric emergency, call 911. Visit this website to see if you qualify for free COVID-19 testing.

Q: In our International Student Health insurance booklet, there is no coverage information on “Infectious Disease”, how would I know if I am covered for COVID-19 if any treatment is needed?

A: All testing for COVID-19 is covered at 100% with no copayment or deductible applied. Any treatment for the virus is covered as any other illness. Please also reference as there is a statement regarding COVID-19 listed at the top of all of our school pages.

Q: I have not had a chance to establish my own Primary Care provider under this insurance since I started school in January, where should I go to seek medical assistance for non-emergency needs?

A: The SMCCCD Insurance Plan is for accident and sickness only so most students would not have a primary care provider. You would only have a primary care doctor if you were receiving on-going care for something. Non-emergency needs can be met at an Urgent Care Facility.

Q: We are not sure if the San Mateo county health department benefits apply to non-immigrant aliens in the U.S. such as F-1 students.  Can you please verify what we are eligible for?

A: The San Mateo District mandates health insurance coverage for their international students. International Students should not be using county health department facilities as these facilities are in place for people who have no other health insurance coverage. The international students should be using their student health insurance for their medical needs.

Q: We tried to call the insurance number 877-246-6997 given by the District but it’s not easy to get a hold of a live person.  Is there another number to call?

A: Another number to call is 800.537.1777. Both are customer service numbers. Sometimes, and especially now with COVID-19, there may be higher volume of calls coming in and it may take longer to answer a call but most calls are handled within a couple of minutes.

Q: If I have a high fever or any other COVID-19 related symptoms, would I have coverage for it?  More specifically, do you have a list of symptoms which will be covered?

A: This plan is an accident and sickness plan. If you are sick, you are covered to see a doctor.

Q: If in-network facilities are overwhelmed by patients, would the treatment cost of COVID-19 related illness provided by an out-of-network doctor or facilities be covered? 

A: The ER or Urgent Care will tell you who to call/where to go to access care should you have COVID-19 and need testing. Allied World (current insurance policy) has agreed to waive any applicable cost-sharing deductible or copays associated with diagnostic testing for COVID-19. Testing will be covered at 100% for in-network facilities unless an in-network facility is not viable/accessible. Coverage will be 100% for testing at out-of-network hospitals/facilities if the in-network facilities are considered either too far away or cannot administer the test.

Q: If I am admitted to ER due to COVID-19 related illness, would the deductible still be $250?

A: No, Allied World (current insurance policy) has agreed to waive any applicable cost-sharing deductible or copays associated with diagnostic testing for COVID-19. 

Q: If I ended up hospitalized and my family can’t even enter the U.S. due to travel restrictions, what type of support my health insurance can provide me?

A: If you are hospitalized, please let a staff member know ASAP and we will work with you, your family, and school administrators to assist as best we can.

Q: How can I get a copy of my Health Insurance Card?

A: Follow these directions to get a copy of your Health Insurance Card:

1. Go to 

2. Log in to your account by entering your school email address (, and the password you set when you set up the account. 

3. Click Sign In. Your health insurance card can be downloaded from Coverage Information. 

Q: How can I create an account to access my Health Insurance Card?

A: If you have not created an account, follow these steps to create one: 

  1. Go to and click “Create Account” (Top right corner)
  2. Put in your First name and last name as it appears in your school account.
  3. Enter your birthdate. 
  4. Enter your school email. 
  5. For Student ID, look for an email in your school email account called “Your Insurance ID Card is Ready to Download!” from Relation Education Solutions. Copy the number from “Member ID” and enter it as your Student ID. 
  6. Click “Submit request to create an account.” 
  7. You will get an email in your school email to activate your account. 
  8. Follow the steps to activate your account. 

Q: How can I protect myself from getting the Coronavirus?

A: To ensure your safety and limit the spread of the coronavirus, please do the following:

  • If you are sick, stay home.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands.
  • Wash your hands frequently (at least 20 seconds with soap and water).
  • Avoid shaking hands and touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Stay at least six feet away from other people, especially anyone who is sick.
  • Use a barrier (such as tissue or a paper towel) to touch commonly used public surface such as door handles and elevator buttons.
  • Get your flu shot.

Q: What if I want to travel to my home country during the transition to online education period?

A: We understand traveling is a very sensitive topic right now. We highly recommend discussing this issue with your family first. We also want to let you know that Effective March 13, the White House issued a Proclamation—Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel CoronavirusThis proclamation updates previous travel restrictions. It suspends entry into the U.S. of all non-U.S. citizens who were physically present within the People’s Republic of  China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau), the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Schengen Area during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. We understand you may have specific reasons to travel home and encourage you to email the international education office at your college and request a phone or Zoom meeting with a staff member to discuss your personal situation. 

Q: Can I go home during Spring Break or Summer vacation?

A: If you choose to travel, you should be aware of the risks and understand that any or all of the following could occur:

  • You might not be allowed to enter the U.S. for an unknown amount of time, 
  • Your trip could get disrupted,
  • You may be required to be quarantined when you are back, or 
  • You might not be able to continue your studies until you are allowed back into the U.S/are out of quarantine. 

Q: Do I need to get a signature on my I-20 before leaving the U.S.?

A: Due to the college closure, we will not be able to provide a new signature on your current I-20. If you need a new travel signature, please directly send your request to the international education staff at your college. 

For those that have a signature on the second page, we’d ask you to review the signature signed on page two of your I-20 first and see if you have a signature within a year. If you have a signature within a year you do not need a new signature. 

travel-I-20 Signature


Q: Do I need to report my trip before leaving the U.S.?

A: Due to the current campus closure, all international students should report their international travel to the international education office by email or phone call.

Q: What do I need to do in order to return to the U.S. after the online education period is over?

 A: If possible, we recommend that you do not travel at this time, because we do not have the full picture of what will continue with COVID-19. However, if you do make the decision along with your family to travel, we hope you understand the complexity of the current travel restrictions in the U.S. We ask you to keep close contact with the international education staff about your return schedule. 

Q: What does online distance learning mean to my F-1 status?

A: There will be no change to your F-1 status as long as you continue actively engaging in the course activities and complete coursework on time. You may be considered out of status if you are dropped below 12 units and can no longer return to full-time status. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and the Department of State have made an exception to the limitations on online course enrollment in light of the COVID-19 situation. As long as you continue to make progress towards your degree, you remain in status. 

Q: if my class gets canceled due to COVID-19 and my course load goes below 12 units as a result, will I be terminated?

A: According to updates from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  , a full course of study requirements can be waived as a direct result of the impact from COVID-19. However, this guidance could change over time or be clarified in the future. Please consult with ISP if your class is canceled and your course load goes below 12 units. 

Q: Will my I-20 be cancelled while the college changes to online distance learning?

A: Your I-20 will remain active as long as you continue enrolling in a minimum of 12 units. By meeting course requirements, turning in homework assignments and following online instructions, you should not worry about your I-20 being cancelled.  

Q: Am I going to lose my F-1 status if I leave the U.S. and take the online courses in my home country?

A: The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and the Department of State have made an exception to the limitations on online course enrollment in light of the COVID-19 situation. You can take your courses online in your home country while maintaining your F-1 status. As long as you continue to make progress towards your degree, you remain in status. However, please keep in mind the following considerations: 

  • Technology: In order to continue with your classes online, you will need the following:  
    • A computer or a tablet,
    • Internet access, 
    • Access to the applications such as Canvas, Zoom, Google Apps (Docs, Slides, Email), 
    • Access to resources such as videos on YouTube and websites such as PBS. 
  • Time Difference: While back in your country, your classes may continue to meet at their regularly scheduled time. This means that may be a time difference between the time that your class meets and the time that you may be awake. If that is the case, you should contact your professor about the possibility of having the lectures recorded so that you can view them at a later time. Please also remember to submit your assignments by the adjusted deadline according to your time zone. 
  • Graduation and OPT: If you are graduating at the end of the Spring 2020 semester and plan to apply for Post Completion OPT, you must physically be present in the U.S. There has been no official change to that policy. Students who decide to leave the country will need to consider the risk of losing the OPT opportunity. 
  • Visa status/“5 month rule”: According to updates from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  if an active F student leaves the U.S. to complete the spring semester online, their SEVIS record should remain in Active status and not be terminated. While the temporary measures related to COVID-19 are in place, students deemed to be maintaining status if they are making normal progress in their course of study. For that reason, the five-month temporary absence provision addressed in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(4) will not apply for students who remain in Active status. However, this guidance could change over time or be clarified in the future. Please consult with ISP if you will be outside the U.S. for more than 5 months.  
  • Return to the U.S.: Please refer to this website for the most up-to-date travel notices for your specific country. 

Q: Will I get paid for my on-campus job while the campus is closed? 

A: Student workers who are not able to work remotely will continue to be paid as scheduled through March 31. Additional information relating to pay and leaves will be forthcoming in a future communication. (SMCCD Announcements – March 17, 2020). 

Q: I am worried about my finances. Can I apply for Off-Campus Work Authorization? 

A: An F-1 student may be authorized to work off-campus based on severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control.  

Examples of unforeseen circumstances: 

  • Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student 
  • Substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate 
  • Inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs 
  • Unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student's source of support 
  • Medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses.  


  • The student has been in F-1 status for one full academic year 
  • The student is in good standing as a student (GPA 2.0 or higher) and is carrying a full course of study (12 units/semester)  
  • The student has demonstrated that acceptance of employment will not interfere with the student's carrying a full course of study 
  • The student has demonstrated that the employment is necessary to avoid severe economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control and has demonstrated that employment is unavailable or otherwise insufficient to meet the needs that have arisen as a result of the unforeseen circumstances. 

If employment is authorized, the student may engage in off campus employment on a part-time basis during academic semesters, and on a full-time basis during school breaks. The employment authorization may be granted in increments of one year at a time, or until the program end-date, whichever is shorter. 


Dear Students, my name is Jing Luan and I am the Provost for International Affairs for the 3 colleges in San Mateo County Community College District. We are known abroad as San Mateo Colleges of Silicon Valley. My office is responsible for the overall international education operations and I work in the central office of our district. The purpose of this page is to provide updates and answer questions about something that is important to us all – COVID-19. How it impacts us, how we get through this, and where to get information and help.

I am sure you have gotten a lot of information about COVID-19 itself, therefore, I will be devoting time to what our colleges as a whole are doing to minimize the impact it has on you. Students First is our philosophy. Your wellbeing is what we are here for. We practice that during normal times and we are particularly sensitive to how you feel and what we can do to help in this special time in your life.

After we have gone virtual/online, we have had many meetings to discuss issues faced by international students. We know you miss home, you may feel lonely, you are dealing with change from classroom learning to online learning, and many other issues that a typical American does not have to worry about.

We encourage independence but we are also fully aware of you, as a student, in a foreign country, would need tender loving care (TLC). We are here for you. Each college has established a Communication Page for international students and staff are providing open office hours for virtual chats. The colleges will continue to provide personal counseling, in case you need it during this confusing time. 

We also know you have many questions. Therefore, we have developed a Q&A area. It addresses questions such as how to maintain your F-1 status while taking classes online, what you should know if you decide to go back to your country, and some general dos and don’ts. Please visit this page often for official information from the three colleges for the help you need.

You are in good hands. We are so honored that you give us this opportunity to help you experience America, to obtain the world’s best education, and to build a future for you. Your happiness and success is our happiness and success.



Jin LuanJing Luan, Ph.D.
San Mateo Colleges of Silicon Valley