This week the U.S. State Department announced full-time international students will be exempt from current border restrictions preventing travelers from China, Europe’s Schengen Zone, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, and South Africa from entering the United States, and there are indications that U.S. consulates in these locations will resume visa processing as soon as early May. The news was an important breakthrough for UVA’s international students, hundreds of whom over the past year were either unable to depart the United States to visit families at home or were not able to arrive on Grounds at all because of closed borders and the unavailability of visas. Thanks to this decision, we can now count on the full return of our international community to Grounds when the fall 2021 semester begins in August.
UVA can be proud of its response to the obstacles our international students faced throughout this period. The University unconditionally guaranteed an education to its students who were unable to get visas and cross the border, and faculty worked day and night to teach and advise them, sometimes twelve time zones away.
The International Studies Office organized an unprecedented series of virtual town halls for our international students and their families to address specific challenges and keep our international community connected. UVA’s office in Shanghai negotiated unprecedented “Go Local” programs with prestigious Chinese universities where dozens of our first-year Chinese students could begin their college education while waiting until they could travel to the U.S. The Admissions Office, Student Affairs, and individual schools exercised broad discretion in permitting late and deferred arrivals on Grounds. And the University’s chief counsel supported the Virginia Attorney General and others in successfully challenging U.S. government efforts to deport international students who did not receive a required level of in-person instruction, even as our schools rushed to ensure they received the necessary in-person experience.
Difficult challenges remain ahead as we continue to work on UVA’s full re-engagement with the world. The State Department and Center for Disease Control have strongly urged against travel in the immediate future to about 80% of the countries on earth, including those that host our most popular study abroad programs.
Many of the families of our students who live overseas will be unable to travel to Charlottesville to join in the celebrations at final exercises next month after so many years of sacrifice and support. And despite miraculous progress here in the U.S., only a small fraction of the world’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, raising the risk of the emergence of new and more infectious COVID variants that could continue to imperil international engagement for years to come.
Still, America’s reopening to international students is an important milestone to celebrate, and a sign that better days are coming. We all look forward to warmly welcoming our students from around the world on Grounds this fall back into our community, of which they are such an integral part.
Vice Provost for Global Affairs