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How the latest COVID variant could impact international students, study abroad |

Despite the omicron threat, higher education programs have proven to be adaptable during a pandemic.

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In rapid response to the potential threat of the omicron variant — which has already been identified in several states — the Biden administration has imposed new travel restrictions, testing and concealment for those bound for the United States and abroad.

As uncertainty swirls around the transmissibility of the new virus and potential evasion of COVID-19 vaccines, the government is moving more quickly than Delta. Other countries such as Germany have installed stricter mandates on non-vaccinators to try to limit the spread of the disease before the holidays.

The global reaction to omicron can have a profound impact on two of the cornerstones of higher education – international student travel and study abroad. During the early stages of the pandemic, student travel was severely affected. When Delta appeared, summer travel took another big hit. There are still many unknowns, but public health experts are more cautious and cautious.

“When there is a risk of transmission, we need to find the balance in limiting and mitigating the risk,” says Dr. Philip Chan, an assistant professor in the Brown University department of medicine who has been instrumental in the COVID case response in Rhode Island. “Because there are so many unknowns, I agree to restrict travel to regions for now until we learn more. This is something we didn’t do very well in early 2020. The virus has already spread halfway around the world, and we are still traveling.”

So far, the US is restricting travel from a few countries, mostly in South Africa, where the alternative has emerged. But there could be more to come. This leaves the operations of those programs in a state of flux.

“I think the biggest concern and stress for us [omicron] “They are our current students abroad and what will happen in terms of bringing them home,” says Kathleen Haring, president of Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. “We usually have about 100 in the fall and 100 in the spring. I think we have 48 students. But then we have more than 90 students who are ready to go in the spring. What will happen? Will the borders close?”

There are nearly 915,000 international students attending institutions in the United States, which is a big boost from fall 2020. Interest in studying abroad has also increased, according to the latest Open Doors and Snapshot series reports from the Institute of International Education (IIE). The Institute of International Education, the US Department of State, and institutions, assisting EducationUSA offices in more than 160 countries, have done a good job of continuing programs, even gathering remote options when necessary.

So, although a looming crisis may seem imminent, institutions and their programs are incredibly resilient in dealing with these moments.

“Higher education in the United States is really adept at dealing with uncertainty,” says Mary McKee, head of enterprise and corporate initiatives at the Institute of International Education. “We have seen it with the onset of COVID-19 and how institutions have adapted to the pandemic, supporting international students who were unable to travel to campus. They have developed virtual learning and distance training programs. For those students on campus, they have provided more communication about health Safety and well-being. The new alternative will be a challenge. But there is optimism. And we will continue to monitor conditions, both globally and regionally.”

The Institute of International Education (IIE) has provided powerful assistance throughout the pandemic to colleges and universities. “One of the things we’ve done is support over 1,000 students through the Student Emergencies Fund, a program that provides scholarships to international students in the United States who are affected by crises, whether it’s global crises or in their home countries,” McCoy says. “In addition, we have created opportunities for members to connect with each other, stay current on important topics, and share experiences.”

McKey believes that if the omicron is indeed a widespread threat, organizations will be ready to focus. “I am confident that the protocols are constantly being scrutinized in light of the current situation,” she says. “If the students are here in the United States, and this alternative is taking over and posing a risk to in-person learning, if the students have to move into a virtual space, they will.”

Anita Barkin, co-chair of the American College Health Association’s COVID-19 task force, agrees, but says students themselves should be proactive and consider actionable steps. “Schools responded very quickly and appropriately when they needed to,” she says. “But if I am an international student, I will be in touch with my country’s Department of State. I will look into travel advice that my country puts in. I will speak to the Office of International Education on my campus and see what they advise about travel restrictions and my ability to return to the US if these become Problem.

“As for studying abroad, they may not know until 11. They should be in touch with the embassy of the respective country. They need to look at the travel advice from the CDC and talk to their parents about how they feel about traveling abroad at this time.” .

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