What will a new travel advisory mean for study abroad?

Sign up to get Latitude(s)


The State Department put 80 percent of the world under a “do not travel” advisory — could that keep study abroad grounded? And join latitude(s) for a webchat on international students and racism.

New Travel Advisory

Just as study abroad was beginning to get back on track after Covid-19 shut down most international programs, it’s been thrown a new curve ball — by the U.S. Department of State.

The State Department announced last week it was revising its foreign-travel advisories for U.S. citizens to rely more heavily on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Covid information. The result: Eight in 10 countries worldwide will now be designated “level 4: do not travel.”

For colleges and program providers, the revamped advisories are an unexpected complication. The State Department guidance factors heavily into risk assessment for education abroad; some institutions prohibit travel to level 4 countries. And students and families may balk at going to places with State Department warnings. Could 80 percent of the globe be effectively off-limits because of the updated designations?

Before the revision, about 15 percent of countries were labeled “do not travel.” All five of the most popular destinations for American students — France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK — are now in level 4.

While the State Department acknowledged that the updates meant a “significant increase” in level 4 countries, it noted that the new labels do “not imply a reassessment of the current health situation in a given country” but rather reflect a greater reliance on CDC assessments.

John Lucas, president of ISEP, a study-abroad and exchange provider, said that the unexpected revamping of the advisory system had thrown planning into “chaos,” even as the availability of Covid vaccines had made the resumption of international study seem more possible:

“By simply merging CDC and State Department warning levels, overnight the U.S. government created a travel crisis when there is no objective change in the situation. Covid is still everywhere and travel is a calculated risk. What has changed is vaccination rates, which are now quite high.”

ISEP was able to send 200 students abroad during the spring semester, thanks to tough guidelines, close monitoring, and strong coordination with overseas partners. But some ISEP institutions may shut down travel due to the advisories, Lucas said.

One director of study abroad told me she expected any country with a “do not travel” designation to be no-go for her public university. The university’s travel-risk committee had made the decision that petitions by students — and by faculty and staff members — to go to level 4 countries would not be approved, and based on discussions, she didn’t think that would change with the new advisories. She said she hoped that warning levels could be lowered in time for fall study.

But the director of international health and safety at another institution told me that she anticipated her college would allow travel to at least some level 4 countries because the new advisories didn’t represent an elevation in risk. (Both administrators asked that their universities not be named because official decisions had not yet been made.)

State Department assessments are one of many data points her institution uses to made education-abroad decisions, the health and safety director said. For Covid information alone, she looks at multiple sources, including the World Health Organization, the European Center for Disease Control, and Johns Hopkins, and she expects to continue to evaluate countries and programs on a case-by-case basis. “It’s nuanced,” she said.

How is your college or program planning for study abroad? What impact will the State Department advisory have? Share your perspective — as well as feedback, news tips, and story ideas — with me at latitudesnews@gmail.com.

Senate Panel OKs China Bill

The Senate Foreign Relations committee gave bipartisan backing to legislation to counter Chinese influence that would impose far-reaching new foreign-funds reporting requirements on American colleges.

In opening remarks, the committee’s top Republican, Idaho Sen. James E. Risch, singled out the higher-education provision as necessary. The Chinese government has “infused tremendous amounts of influence” over U.S. universities, he said.

“It is not right,” Risch added, “to be taking money from the Chinese Communist Party.”

In the lead-up to Wednesday’s committee passage, the leaders of several higher-ed associations asked senators to reconsider the provision, which would require contracts, gifts, and other deals from overseas of $1 million or more be scrutinized by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The government group, known as CFIUS, usually examines business deals for national-security concerns and has been a tool for blocking Chinese mergers and acquisitions.

In their letter, the college groups warn that the “sweeping” language could subject institutions to costly new reporting requirements. CFIUS isn’t “designed or equipped” to carry out reviews of universities, they said.

During the bill’s consideration, Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, warned that over-aggressive responses, even to legitimate concerns about Chinese government influence in U.S. higher ed, risked tarnishing the reputations of Chinese students and researchers and jeopardizing Sino-American academic cooperation. “We have to be sure we don’t cut off our nose to spite our face,” he warned.

The bill will now be considered by the full Senate.

Talking About Anti-Asian Racism

From “kung flu” to the “China virus,” the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a rise in anti-Asian hate, culminating in the mass shooting at Atlanta-area spas. How is this surge in xenophobia affecting international students, 70 percent of whom are from Asia? 

Join a conversation on anti-Asian hate and international students, co-sponsored by latitude(s) and the University of Kentucky Office of China Initiatives. I’ll be moderating the stellar panel, which includes:

  • Katie Koo of Texas A&M University-Commerce, whose research focuses on the impact of campus climate and discrimination on the mental health of international students
  • Yuezhong Zheng of Arizona State University and Kelly Wagner of the University of Michigan, who will talk about how their institutions work to combat racism and to support their international students in this difficult time
  • Ruwen Chang and Kuhan Rajendran, University of Kentucky students sharing the critical international-student perspective.

Please join us for this free webinar on Wednesday, April 28, at 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT. You can register here.

Around the Globe

GOP lawmakers have introduced legislation that would prioritize U.S. citizens in receiving Covid vaccines.

In a letter to the Veterans Affairs secretary, NAFSA and Students Veterans of America ask for more flexibility in how veterans can use GI Bill benefits for study abroad.

U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement published new notices designating students from Syria and Venezuela for special student relief.

The University of Cape Town is asking researchers to archive and digitize any materials they may have copied, photographed, or recorded at its African Studies Library and Special Collections after a devastating fire.

In a rare move, the Canadian Association of University Teachers has voted to censure the University of Toronto over the aborted hiring of director for its International Human Rights Program.

The University of Manchester earned the top spot in the Times Higher Education Impact Ranking, which assesses institutions on UN Sustainable Development Goals.

A survey by al-Fanar and Scholars at Risk found that three-quarters of professors at Arab universities practice self-censorship in their professional lives.

Kidnappers have abducted Nigerian university students.

University groups across Europe are calling on the EU not to restrict participation in the Horizon Europe research program for associated countries, such as Britain, Israel, and Switzerland.

A math professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale was indicted for grant fraud for allegedly concealing support he was receiving from the Chinese government and a Chinese university.

Foreign gifts to the University of Pennsylvania soared after the university created an international development arm, with China the largest source of overseas donations.

Chinese universities should train a new generation with an inquisitive and innovative mindset — and loyal to the socialist cause, President Xi Jinping said during a visit to Tsinghua University.

The Chinese government is calling on citizens to report anyone who “misrepresents” the country’s history to a new hotline.

New Oriental, the Chinese educational-services behemoth, reports that revenues from its overseas test-prep business declined 12 percent in the last quarter, amid pandemic-related uncertainty about international study.

A new study examines the impact of the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund, which provides safe haven and academic opportunities to scholars and researchers under threat in their home countries.

For news between issues, follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn. And if you know someone who’d like latitude(s), please share this newsletter.

And finally…

No one at the Fairfield Inn and Suites where Jannette Bonamie mans the front desk, knows that she has a Ph.D. in educational linguistics.

Bonamie was laid off from her job as a senior specialist and instructor of English as a second language at Saginaw Valley State University last summer, part of the historic job losses wrought by Covid-19. One in nine workers employed in academe at the start of the pandemic had lost or left that job a year later.

With international-study largely halted, English-language programs like Bonamie’s have been hit hard by budget cuts. She doesn’t plan to return to higher ed, she told my colleague Megan Zahneis. Hers is one of a number of stories told as part of Forced Out, a look at the coronavirus’ impact on the higher-ed workforce.

’Til next week —Karin

You May Also Like

An uncertain future for undocumented students

Legislation to provide legal protections and a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other young immigrants has remained stymied in Washington, although President Biden is supportive of such changes. And many immigration-law experts think a federal judge in Texas could rule the current program unlawful.