International Concerns: How International Student Managers Should Respond to the Coronavirus

International Concerns: How to Prepare for International Students Remaining in the United States
International Concerns: How to Prepare for International Students Remaining in the United States

International Student Programs//

March 15, 2020

There will be many challenges for school communities in the days and weeks ahead as we respond to COVID-19.

For schools with international student programs, addressing your international students is a bit more nuanced. While we treat and protect all children equally, there are inevitably more tasks associated with minor children in your custody.

International students remaining in the United States over scheduled school breaks, due to imposed travel restrictions as well as parental concerns for their safety, create new responsibilities.

There are tasks that are mandated, per your Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certification, and then there are those additional responsibilities imposed by moral obligations.

Use the outline provided here to develop your school’s plan for addressing international students remaining in your care and custody during these uncertain times.

Actions Required of Schools

  • Notify SEVP through SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) of programmatic changes. You must notify about programmatic changes within 10 days. Changes include:
    • Remote or online coursework offered: You’ll need to explain your method and timeline.
    • School closure versus campus closure with remote or virtual learning: Programmatic shifts for education delivery are expected and encouraged. Be prepared to document the decision-making and delivery process.
    • Oversight of the educational program and logistical provisions for students: This must be provided and documented.
  • Reporting status changes. All student records in SEVIS must be maintained and updated by your PDSO/DSO staff as changes occur.
  • Broadcast messages through SEVIS regarding the following:
    • In country versus re-entry issues: For student visa holders and how to address them 
    • Initial status for students who are enrolled by not yet matriculated: Provide timelines and directives.
  • Be prepared for out-of-cycle reviews by SEVP. Respond appropriately on a case-by-case basis.
    • SEVP’s intention is to be flexible with temporary adaptations: A Broadcast Message dated March 9, 2020, supersedes all previously published directives.
    • Document everything: Your must be able to respond to a request for evidence (RFE) and upload it through SEVIS.
  • Oversight of non-immigrant visa holding students remaining in your custody. This continues throughout a school closure or suspension of classes.
    • Know where your international students are at all times.
    • Your school is responsible for oversight at all times: Even during temporary guardianship and/or release from campus.

Support Schools Should Provide 

  • Role of the educator. Identify appropriate resources for international students and their families:
    • CDC: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    • WHO: World Health Organization.
    • Your own website: Create a resource page on your website for parents to access current school information. Consider a dedicated phone line for leaving messages or asking questions as they occur. A method for information intake should be determined and managed by responsible staff members.
  • Communication and messaging. Work with your emergency response team to determine messaging and a point person for consistent, clear dissemination. If messaging comes from multiple sources, the content must be the same— communicate internally first to get on the same page.
    • Multiple platforms: Social media, e-lists, and phone messaging groups, such as WeChat or What’sApp. You don’t need to be everywhere, but will likely need to be present on multiple platforms in order to make certain your messaging is effectively heard.
    • Multiple time-zones: Considered when messages are shared.
  • Review tech capabilities. Make certain that all of your international students have the capability to connect prior to decisions for remote or virtual learning programs. Consider devices, hardware, and internet access.
  • Prepare to assist with travel planning and “overstays.”
    • Flights: Some students may require help rescheduling their flights. Not all students are aware that credits or refunds are available, especially if their English proficiency is low. See to it that they do not incur unnecessary losses.
    • Housing and homestays: If possible, try to keep the student in his or her current housing situation for the short term. This may require a nominal fee. The long term planning must be fully addressed by the parents.
    • Student medical records: Confirm that students have access to their records through your self-service software systems. If hard copy records are needed, do everything you can to maintain privacy. Make certain to coordinate with your school medical personnel.
    • Oversight staffing and scheduling: International program staff members have built relationships with these students and their families. These students may need additional support in this crucial time. You might find it necessary to increase the number of school staff members who work with these children—especially if you have been working with a small staff or a single proprietorship model.
      • In-person or virtual check ins: Be prudent and safe, acting with caution and expecting cooperation from hosts and staff.
      • Vetting and referrals: Be cautious enough to still seek referrals and background check clearance for intended, albeit temporary, hosts.

By fully understanding your responsibilities to your international students, you can better prepare for the work ahead. These students are far from home and their own families. They will need additional support and counseling services available. International students and families look to your school for guidance, and you must be there for these important members of your school community. All decisions must be made through the lens of what is best for your students.


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