International Student Programs: A Current State of Affairs

Posted By: Jacqui Yamada Consortium Hot Topics,

International Student Programs: A Current State of Affairs

By Jacqui Yamada, International Advisory Consultant, ISM 

Spring 2020: what a challenging time for all. So many euphemisms coming at us all the time and from all directions; we live in uncertain times, a new reality, unknown expectations, a new normal. It is a time of being sheltered in place for most and yet a time of overstimulation for many.  New messaging and reports are coming at us every day, through the media, through our schools, from our bosses, our governments, and then the medical and scientific communities as well. They are important but daunting nonetheless. How should we process it all? How will it all translate?

I, like many educational professionals working from home, are feeling overwhelmed at times. The work has been steady as an educational consultant assisting schools in plans to temporarily close campuses, then advising on international travel available once travel bans started to be imposed, and eventually planning how to handle the overstays. Overstays is another euphemism, identifying those international students unable, or unwilling to return to their home country and therefore remaining, indefinitely, in the United States. School officials have an obligation at the very least to provide oversight for these students. They provide and plan for a time of oversight, both of an academic and custodial nature with no forecasted end in sight. That is a challenging new reality post-COVID-19.

As hard as this pandemic disruption is for the adults, the school administrators, instructors, and parents can we truly appreciate how challenging all these occurrences and disruptions are for those international students affected? Perhaps we can now, given all the interference in our own way of life, way of work, way of thinking. All human beings thrive on predictability and support and we are currently existing, or what often feels like interminably treading water, without either.  Our students, international and otherwise need us right now and maybe more than ever.

How will we answer the call, or the Zoom? How will we meet their needs, and is it only about distance learning? These are matters for consideration.

This time of interruption and disruption can be a time for variation, but it will matter how we make the transition. A small correction is in order and being careful not to over correct will be relevant. Our constituent relationships, with both students and parents will matter more and from now on. Customer service is not a new concept but one that will prove even more critical in the international marketplace and challenging for independent schools. But independent schools are actually primed and ready for this shift. And it is a matter of shifting, not completely changing direction. Admission directors and enrollment managers have been operating in the virtual arena for quite some time now.

It is time to ramp up efforts in communication and double down on connecting with our international students and their families. It is essential that they feel a sense of connectivity and believe they are part of your school community. This truly cannot happen too soon for any one member of your community. Inquiring and finding out as to how our international students are really doing is so vital during these uncertain times but this valuable information will help frame decisions that need to be made regarding their future with your school.

The schools that offer this level of stewardship will hold their place in the international marketplace and as importantly their reputation. It is also fundamental that your international constituency see your school officials as the voice of authority in these matters. Now is not a time to wait until better prepared with more or final answers. Stating simply that plans for our students’ return are being worked on can be incredibly calming. Authoritative calm is contagious. Remember too that not everyone everywhere has access to the same information.

Everyone will know more as situations progress and as further official guidance is offered from SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program). Be patient awaiting guidance on the specifics, understanding a plan is being worked on currently.

Some general items that schools will need to address for international students in the coming months include:

  • Documentation required for international travel and at U.S. ports of entry.
  • Requirements for quarantine following travel to the U.S., your state and finally your school campus.
  • Plans if additional quarantine is required upon arrival to campus identifying who is responsible for cost and oversight.
  • Additional health immunizations and screenings required prior to or following travel.
  • Guideline updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the U. S. Department of State.
  • Waivers, protocols, and permissions to treat if a student were to contract illness.
  • School year/semester calendar; expectations and plans for scheduled breaks.
  • Adjustments to program and session start and end dates reported in SEVIS. (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)
  • Substantive changes in school rules/curriculum/graduation requirements.
  • Substantive changes required for school attendance (i.e. policy requiring face masks).
  • Designated U.S airports (13) as acceptable ports of entry for international travelers.
  • Student options to maintain student visa status if they are unable or unwilling to participate in fulltime academic program offered by your school.


As introduced, this is a generalized list that is likely to be amended as the months advance towards re-opening. It is meant to simply help get school officials started and it is by no means complete. School officials responsible for international student programs will need to stay informed and get ready to advise students in the anticipated enhanced processes. Stay tuned for updates as your international students will be counting on you.

If, however these challenges prove formidable, seek help, immediately, there are many resources available. Professional assessments, coaching, and even crowd sourcing can provide a new perspective on how to simply enhance educational best practices while shelving some strategies for another time.

Jacqui is a consultant at ISM for International Advisory. As an educator for 28 years and as a consultant, she advises international educators and school officials on best practices and compliance for today's international programs at the secondary school level. Jacqui is a faculty member at ISM's Summer & Fall Institute and speaks regularly at the national and international conference level for organizations such as IECA, ICEF,  ISANNE, MISBO, NBOA, NAFSA, TABS, and TABS-NAIS Global Symposium. Jacqui continues her professional development by attending NAFSA Summit: Briefing by U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Education and then reporting information through webinars, newsletters, blog posts, and various podcasts.