The University is advising graduate students against traveling abroad due to the pandemic and travel restrictions in many foreign countries, said Barbara Stephenson, UNC’s vice provost for global affairs, at a panel on Monday.
Several UNC deans and administrators fielded student questions and offered advice to international graduate students at the International Graduate Education panel. University leaders warned that students who leave the country now could risk not being able to return.
“The bottom line is, we in Global recommend against undertaking international travel at this time,” Stephenson said. “The UNC System has a ban on international travel. It’s in place at this time.”
Stephenson said the timeline of lifting these restrictions will likely depend on the course of the pandemic. Still, there is a waiver process for graduate students who need to travel in order to complete research that is crucial to their degrees.
UNC Study Abroad is looking to provide a waiver process for students who wish to study abroad in the spring semester, but nothing has been finalized yet, Stephenson said.
Director of International Student and Scholar Services Ioana Costant advised international students — especially those employed by the University — against leaving the country due to the possibility that a change in immigration law would prohibit them from re-entering.
Dean of the School of Education Fouad Abd-El-Khalick said that, from experience, people should not leave the U.S. when policies on immigration are changing.
“Back in post-9/11, I was stuck outside the U.S. as a faculty member for eight months because I just went back home to see my family at a time where immigration policies were being changed," Abd-El-Khalick said.
Stephenson said it would also be difficult for these students to keep their jobs due to complications with additional fees and taxes when paying a student living abroad.
“We’re under a lot of external stresses to try and pay for those kinds of opportunities we used to not even think about,” said Gary Marchionini, dean of the School of Information and Library Sciences.
Director of Federal Affairs Kelly Dockham said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has proposed a change in the international student visa policy. Instead of the current policy, which allows students to remain in the country for an indefinite period of time as they study at universities in the U.S., these students would only have visas until a set date — either four years or two years after obtaining their visas.
Dockham revealed that on Oct. 15, the University submitted a formal response to the Department of Homeland Security, asking for a 60-day delay to give universities time to study the implications of the proposed change.
“I can assure you all that we will continue to heavily monitor and we will continue to partner with our other higher education national associations ... on this broad advocacy strategy,” she said.
Dean of the Graduate School Suzanne Barbour encouraged students who have questions about degree progression or admissions to reach out to the Graduate School or their individual departments.
“Please trust that everyone, not only on this University but in higher ed writ large, wants you to be here,” Abd-El-Khalick said. “We’re gonna do everything that we can to support you.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.