Coronavirus (COVID-19) Communications Guidance for International Student Programs

***Last updated May 28, 2020

It’s essential for school leaders to stay updated on the latest coronavirus news and inform their communities as situations around COVID-19 develop. This endeavor requires daily upkeep as well as calm and measured communication when speaking to staff, students, and their families. It’s equally important to try not to speculate on uncertainties and communicate facts that have been thoroughly vetted. International student programs and admissions offices should be proactive in their messaging by addressing issues with concrete responses and brief explanations of your decision-making process. By keeping your community informed of your procedures, you can instill confidence and reduce anxieties, which is vital during crisis management.

News around the pandemic is changing quickly from day-to-day; it is realistic to say that many schools are not able to make some decisions yet. But it is still crucial for schools to acknowledge what is still being done and keep your community clued in, even on actions that have yet to come to fruition. To ease the worries of your school’s stakeholders, try to communicate as much information as you can with the promise of continuous updates as plans are set and arrangements are made.

Cambridge Network is here to support your needs and help address any obstacles you may encounter during these uncertain times. As the situation evolves, we encourage our partners to plan for potential next steps as soon as possible to prevent further disruption to your school operations.

Below we highlight best practices and essentials international student communication for schools.

For more information, go to our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources for Foreign International Student Programs page.

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Staying Informed of the Latest News

Schools should stay informed on the latest updates from trusted sources such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for school guidance on public health, U.S. Department of State for travel advisories, and the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) page on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s site for official visa and immigration information for international students.

Visa and Immigration Information for International Student Programs

On April 30, 2020, SEVP updated its COVID-19 FAQs with new information related to student records if the student is unable to return to the U.S. once the school returns to regular operations, and several other additional changes. Schools should refer to the SEVP main page and COVID-19 FAQ page for the latest international student visa and immigration information.

Currently, SEVP is waiving the limitations that generally exist for F-1 students and online courses to maintain their student status. Therefore, if a school is moving to online instruction, F-1 students may participate and remain in status, whether they are in the U.S. or have returned to their home country.
Below we summarize SEVP’s latest updates for international student programs. For more information, visit NAFSA: Association of International Educators SEVP COVID-19 Guidance Sources page.

March 26: SEVP COVID-19 FAQ update to allow DSOs to “electronically send Forms I-20 to student email addresses listed in SEVIS”.

March 13: Follow up to the guidance issued by SEVP on March 9, 2020, COVID-19: Guidance for SEVP Stakeholders. The guidance identifies three common scenarios for SEVP-certified schools:

A school completely closes and does not have online courses or other alternate learning procedures

A school temporarily stops in-person classes but implements online or other alternate learning procedures and the nonimmigrant student remains in the United States;

A school temporarily stops in-person classes but implements online or other alternate learning procedures and the nonimmigrant student departs the United States.

March 12: Online Coursework Taken Abroad Under School COVID-19 Policies

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) provides NAFSA with the following statement:

“SEVP is committed to remaining flexible in allowing schools to make temporary procedural adaptations so nonimmigrant students can continue to make normal forward progress in their program of study. They can temporarily engage in distance-learning, either from within the U.S. or outside the country, in light of COVID-19. SEVP will provide updated guidance as the scope and length of this situation becomes more clear.”

If a student chooses to fulfill the online coursework from outside the United States, they should consider that students may be unable to re-enter the United States to resume in-person classes due to travel restrictions.

March 9: SEVP sent Broadcast Message 2003-01, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Potential Procedural Adaptations for F and M nonimmigrant students, guiding how schools should respond to F and M international students and allowing flexibility in policies and procedures to ensure that nonimmigrant students are able to continue to make normal progress in a full course of study as required by federal regulations.

Creating a Resource Page for COVID-19 on Your Website

In addition to the email communications to parents, employees, and your school community at large, many schools have built webpages on their sites dedicated to sharing information about COVID-19. While this doesn’t replace the need for regular communications to your community, it does offer an excellent opportunity to centralize your school’s COVID-19 response and action plan. Other pertinent information about remote or online learning should be included here, as well as CDC guidance about cleaning and hygiene. Click here to go to our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources for Foreign International Student Programs page.

Essential Areas of Concern for International Students and Programs

Many schools have done a great job of communicating with their student community on several key topics for including social distancing protocols, online learning, local public health guidance, and cases of COVID-19 in the community. Nevertheless, international student programs face unique difficulties relating to COVID-19 that also require the immediate attention of schools.

Without reassurances of continued education plans from schools, returning and prospective international students who have additional challenges such as travel restrictions and accessibility of distance learning may be hesitant to commit to your school. Cambridge Network strongly recommends that schools provide and reiterate their travel and payment policies for their international student program. Below were highlight several essential areas of concern for international students and programs.

Tuition Collection and Refunds Policies

Cambridge Network has already updated our policies so that if any student is not able to obtain a visa due to COVID-19, we will offer a complete refund of our service fees. Your students and families may ask you to do the same.

Whether for returning or newly enrolled students, schools should update their international student policies for Fall 2020 to reflect these possible scenarios should COVID-19 continue causing global travel restrictions and visa delays. Click here to learn more about Forecasting COVID-19 Impacts and Solutions for Fall 2020.

Summer Homestay Opportunities

As educators, our top priority is to ensure the health and well-being of our community. Because of COVID-19 and ongoing travel restrictions, some international students will not be able to return to their home countries at the end of the school year (see CDC and U.S. Department of State travel advisories).

Cambridge Network offers summer-long homestay programs where international students are connected with one of our more than 5000 approved and verified host families around the United States.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Cambridge Network can provide summer residential and academic solutions for your program, click here.

Accredited Online Education Providers

If international student matriculation is delayed or otherwise interrupted, schools should consider allowing students to earn course credits through a certified online education provider.

Cambridge Network and St. Mary’s School (OR) is pleased to launch St. Mary’s Online Academy to provide accredited online courses to prospective international students. St. Mary’s School, founded in 1865, has been recognized as the Best Catholic High School in Oregon by Niche and has grown to include seven partnership branch campuses in China (Shanghai, Beijing, Pinghu, Wuhan, Guiyang, Zhengzhou, and Haimen). With graduates of its campuses attending top institutions such as Princeton University, Yale University, Stanford University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The program at St. Mary’s is accredited by Cognia for its policies, practices, and learning conditions, demonstrating their sustained commitment to continuous improvement and better learner outcomes. The St. Mary’s Online Academy continues in the rich tradition of St. Mary’s School and provides an authentic U.S. educational experience with course credits issued through its premier program. Students will have the opportunity to study onsite (where available) or online with classes delivered at convenient periods for Asian time zones. Additionally, students are provided with a bilingual learning coach and a full range of Advanced Placement (AP) course selection for juniors and seniors. High school seniors who complete the program will have the opportunity to graduate with a U.S. high school diploma.

Cambridge Network is also excited to work with United K-12 Academy, an online kindergarten through 12th-grade school in partnership with Pearson Online Academy (formerly known as International Connections Academy (iNaCA) backed by Pearson PLC, the world’s largest education company. United K-12’s full array of courses is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA), Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC), and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI). Student courses are delivered through Pearson Online Academy’s Connexus learning platform, which provides tools for student success and progress monitoring for parents and learning coaches. The student-teacher portal allows for easy accessibility for lessons, assignments, grades, communications, and resources. Bilingual learning coaches, Pearson Online Academy instructors, and Creative K-12 tutors are available to students enrolled through United K-12.

Extending Arrival Dates and Enrollment Deferrals

Extending student arrival dates is the easiest solution to potential travel delays due to COVID-19, but a clear policy needs to be in place. If students are unable to come by the outlined date, an alternative approach may be to defer international student enrollments until Spring 2021. Click here to learn more about how to prepare for 2021 international student recruitment.

Admissions Requirement Flexibility

The common themes to successful crisis management are flexibility and speed in your admissions team’s response. In our new blog, we bring attention to 4 Tips for Successful Admissions Teams in Response to COVID-19 Complications. These best practices include optimizing your utilization of technological resources, maintaining ongoing admissions operations (how Cambridge Network can help), and widening your accepted English proficiency requirements.

Self-Quarantine and Travel Policies for International Students

Have does your self-quarantine and travel policies been explicitly communicated to your international students and families? Generally, schools and local officials have instituted similar guidelines:

  • Requests that all individuals traveling out of the country* regularly check the CDC and State Department websites (before traveling and before returning)
  • Requires individuals to self-report to a designated school official if traveling to certain areas
  • Requires those individuals to remain at home for 14 days to confirm that no signs of the virus are present before returning to school
  • Discusses any online learning or resources that may be provided to the family during the self-quarantine period