While the US has seen the most Covid-19 cases of any country with 2.3 million to date, the local Covid-19 situation can vary significantly between states, and even between neighbouring cities and counties.
Official guidance in the US is issued at the local, state, and national levels, which may seem confusing, and at times, conflicting, but with over 325 million people in the US, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan to deal with Covid-19 in every city and state.
Prior to Covid-19, the US hosted nearly a million international students in 2018-2019, a number that’s nearly double the UK, and triple Australia. That’s following a trend that’s seen international student numbers to the US grow by over 60% in the last decade alone.
So what if you’re currently considering, or already enrolled in a US school?
What is the Current Covid-19 Situation in the USA?
If you’re just starting to make your plans, one of the best general sources at the national level is the CDC, which also has detailed state-by-state overviews. Each individual state’s Department of Health will provide the most up-to-date, local information such as California, Massachusetts and New York.
Is the US Still Issuing Student Visas?
Due to the pandemic, the US has temporarily suspended visa services. And while there’s currently no specific advice on when things will resume, you can keep updated on the overall situation on the US Department of State’s website, and on the specific situation regarding resumption of visa services and appointments here in Singapore through the The US Embassy in Singapore.
While all incoming international students’ immigration documents (i.e. I-20s / DS-2019s) are still being processed (remotely), processing times have increased to about 6-8 weeks. Successful applicants will then receive a confirmation email with their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System or “SEVIS” I.D., which allows you to make an interview appointment at the US Embassy (pending the Embassy’s resumption of visa appointments and services), along with your physical documents that will be shipped to you, separately.
In all cases, as most individual schools’ international student admissions teams are (temporarily) working remotely, prospective students should begin the application process as early as possible.
What If I Already Have My Visa – Will I Be Able to Enter the US?
The situation is constantly evolving, and the list of countries whose visa-holding citizens may experience difficulties entering the US is always subject to change. At the moment, this includes any foreign national who has been in China, the EU, or UK in the last 14 days prior to their arrival in the US, but that could change at any time. While certain individuals may qualify for specific exemptions, it’s important to stay as up-to-date as possible, and two of the best sources for incoming, Covid-related travel restrictions are the US CDC’s dedicated page and the US Department of State’s COVID-19 travel information page.
In all cases, whether you’re a current applicant, or a visa-holding student already planning to come to the US later this year, your prospective school’s international admissions office is one of your best sources of information and updates.
If you’re an enrolled, visa-holding student planning to come to the US, you may wish to request a travel support letter from your university. While it’s important to note this won’t guarantee you’ll be allowed into the US, it does provide an extra layer of verifiable documentation for immigration authorities, that you’re an active student at a specific university.
Will US Universities be In-Person or Online Later This Year?
Considering there’s over 4,000 degree-granting institutions across the US, the answer to that question depends completely on the school, with different schools taking very different approaches.
As the situation is evolving week-to-week, many schools had delayed making an earlier decision, as they waited for more clarity from their local (state) governments. Some schools that will be announcing their plans soon, include Dartmouth College (29 June), Princeton University (early July), and Brown University (by 15 July).
Additionally, many other schools have already moved to extend their decisions and deposit deadlines beyond the usual June cut-off, with a full list of the schools doing so here.
Other schools like Cornell University are concurrently considering multiple scenarios, including starting the fall semester 2 weeks later, or dividing the semester into mini-semesters, or even starting in-person, then moving online in late November. Harvard University is considering scenarios ranging from bringing only several hundred students on-campus (ie. those who are unable to learn remotely) to bringing between 40-100% of undergraduates back on-campus, contingent on the school’s ability to administer between 6,000 – 24,000 Covid-19 tests across the entire student body, per week.
Others like Columbia University, located in hard-hit New York City, will be making an announcement on their fall/spring/summer terms on 1 July. Meanwhile, New York University (NYU), Stanford University and University at Buffalo are restarting with their own tailored mixes of face-to-face and online learning.
Nationwide, in all cases where schools are returning to partial or full face-to-face classes, they are universally doing so under greatly increased hygiene protocols, and with deliberately smaller class sizes.
What Support are International Students in the US Currently Getting?
Many individual colleges and universities in the US have implemented their own programmes to support current students, and 92% of enrolled international students have remained in the US as of late May 2020.
International students in the US can access multiple layers of support, at the national, state, and university level. There are several excellent, consolidated resources available online for international student support at a national level, including iie.org. At the local level, each state and school are offering their own programmes, administered directly.
In general, these programmes include:
Healthcare & Covid-19 Coverage
Most US schools require prospective international students to already have health insurance in order to enroll, with many schools offering their own insurance plans to international students. Coverage will vary based on your specific plan, but you’re generally covered at some level for medical services including doctor visits, emergency care, etc. While many plans also cover Covid-19 testing and treatment, prospective students who may be travelling to the US later this academic year are advised to check directly with their school or insurance provider for more information on specific Covid-related coverage.
In general, while international students are not eligible for US federal aid (e.g. Stafford Loans, etc.), they often qualify for other sources of funding, and one of the best resources to find out more about this is EducationUSA Singapore.
Many individual schools are already offering a wide range of Covid-related financial aid including fee waivers, payment deferrals, extended housing arrangements, scholarships or even direct cash support through various International Student Emergency Funds. Many universities are directly contacting current (eligible) international students who qualify through their international offices, which are also the best source of specific information for prospective students.
What Does New Normal Look Like in the US?
With nearly 1 million international students spread across over 4,000 schools, there’s no one best hashtag to follow for a real look at what’s happening right now in the US, but some of the best include #quarantineandchill, #withme, and #stayhome.