I know there are a lot of questions about the travel ban and, because I want to be super careful not to provide inaccurate information, I can’t speak to many of the specifics. There are a few things I DO know for sure. First off, the ban does not apply to students. Secondly, and related to the first point, is that the ban is based on country of residence as opposed to citizenship. International students have student residence permits from a European country which exempts them from the ban. We had a member fly back from the US to the Netherlands last week using her residence permit, after the travel ban was put into place. Sam flew here to meet us in Portugal this week, also using his student residence card. Students who have their residence card should not have a problem being able to board and getting through border control.
Then we have students who have been accepted for the fall. The issue they have is that residency permits are almost always issued after arriving in the country. Even though it’s in process, they don’t have the physical card in their hands yet. I’d like to go through a few suggestions for the students in this boat.
First and foremost, do not bank on the information you see on facebook. I’ve mentioned before about the well intentioned misinformation I’ve seen in many groups. I saw many things stated as fact even before the travel ban was officially announced! There is someone who even posted in the comments of one of our facebook ads that her “good friend’s son has just been advised that his university in the Netherlands is not accepting him due to Covid-19 reasons”. Though I found this hard to believe, you can be sure that I immediately reached out to my Dutch administrators group who all assured me that they are NOT rescinding acceptances due to nationality! It’s just that there is A LOT of people saying things that aren’t true or are misleading.
The fact is, specifics will change depending on the country you are traveling to. The advice of someone who has a student going to France, for instance, may not apply to your student who will attend in Finland. Your first point of contact should be the school. Usually you will already have someone, or at least a department, who has been working on your residence permit. Find out from them what they can issue you to show at the airport and border control proofing that you are a student and that your residence permit is in process. Then ask for a contact at the immigration department (of the country) to see if they can issue documentation. Ask the immigration office for confirmation (preferably written so you can print it up and take it) that what your documentation will suffice.
You may also be able to find information on the country’s website. For instance, if you look here, you can see that students are listed separately from people who have a residence permit. This implies that already having the residence permit is not required. It also talks about documentation that can be presented at the border and information about who to contact if your documentation is not accepted. Now, it is very true that not every country hasp public information that is this thorough, so well organized, or is even translated so some digging might be required. Ideally, your university could point you to this information and the google translate extension can be a life saver when trying to work through non English documentation!
This brings you to the airport where you and your student arrive with all the necessary documentation. Can you imagine how difficult it must be to work for airports or airlines right now? You may get in the line of someone who has had an exceptionally bad day or maybe someone who hasn’t yet dealt with this issue. If you get push back after showing your documentation, ask for a supervisor. It could also help to research whether your particular airline has a department that handles these type of issues so that, if the supervisor pushes back, you have a next step. There IS someone who can help, if you are in the right and it will be less stressful to figure out who this person is before you arrive.
So, you get your student on the plane but perhaps you are worried about border control on the other side. One of our retained an immigration attorney in Prague when her daughter flew back, just in case there were any problems. If you are having trouble figuring out the documentation information you need to board, it’s possible that an immigration attorney (in the country your student is traveling to) could help you with that as well. Here in Portugal, we worked with an immigration specialist (not an attorney but someone who knows the system backwards and forwards) and it’s been worth every penny and more. You can join facebook expat groups for the particularly city or country your student will be moving to and ask for recommendations.
If the current travel ban is still in place in August, you won’t be able to travel with your student. Don’t worry! Parents dropping off their students isn’t the norm like it is here in the US. I followed the lead from one of our members last year. Her son (who started a year earlier than Sam) went to school on his own. She made sure he had all the information he needed about tasks that needed to be accomplished, resources to use, and she followed up to make sure he was on top of the particularly important ones. Universities often have resources in place to help with much of this anyhow. Doing this on his own gave Sam a level of confidence and independence which helped him through the year.
If your student is going to a country that requires a quarantine, the first thing I would do is to see if a negative test would change the requirement. Some airports, like Prague and Frankfurt are offering instant tests in the airport (for a fee). I understand that more will be opening in the coming weeks and months. The next step would be to contact the school and student residence around this to see if there are suggestions or resources for new students who have to quarantine. I would also check our member group to see if another student is going there who wants to coordinate travel and quarantine together. Finally, if you have to send your student early to deal with a quarantine, have a plan in place ahead of time. Of course, you will make plans for where they will stay (if the student residences aren’t a possibility). Find the grocery stores that offer delivery and set up an account ahead of time. See if you can set up an order be delivered shortly after arrival and pack non-perishable food to get them through until the delivery time. If they will be in the student residences, make plans to take a router or have it delivered on day one (if they aren’t provided). Set up an uber eats account with the quarantine address ahead of time and look at the options. Most universities, programs, and student residences have facebook and what’s app groups to join. This will allow students to start meeting people virtually. It won’t be fun, but at least they can get over the jet lag before their life really gets started in 14 days!
Some families are worried about the impact this will have on the first year experience. I totally understand that concern! However, given that Covid is everywhere, life is going to be affected no matter where you are! I’ve said before that making an international move in the midst of a worldwide pandemic was not ideal for us, but since we’ve never moved internationally before we really don’t have a frame of reference. I don’t know what was harder than it would have been without the pandemic. The same applies for students. They will have a first year experience and it will be different than students in the past, but they will still get the information that is needed and meet other people. Since they don’t have the frame of reference from previous years, they won’t necessarily feel like they are missing out.
Honestly, the overall climate around this is just so much different here and I think the students will feel that. I know I’m generalizing, but I’ve heard this from people in other European countries too. There’s less doom and gloom and much less hostility and divisiveness around it. Yes, we have teens who irresponsibly have large gatherings and cause an outbreak, but we don’t have people refusing to talk to contract tracers until issued until issued with subpoenas. And nobody is breaking arms over being told by a store employee to wear a mask. I’ve heard that there is more of a concern for the common good than an every man for himself mentality. Most (again, but not all) people are following recommendations and taking precautions but moving forward with their lives as much as possible.
I’m in a similar boat as many of you, in that I’m unable to leave the country until I have my residence permit. Due to covid, my original appointment was cancelled and I don’t have a new date yet. For now, its exciting exploring this new country we are living in, but I am dreaming about all the places I want to travel! For those of you with students in Europe, you will be able to visit them again. For those of you exploring the options, this will likely be resolved well before fall of 2021. Until then, our services and our BTS community can serve as your supports and resources!