International students tentatively expected to attend Fall 2021 semester fully in person

Plans for in-person classes next semester affect international students in the fall given vaccination rollouts and quarantine restrictions.

Furman+Hall

Alex Venero

Image of Furman Hall taken on September 10, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Alex Venero)

Claire Cho, Staff Writer

As the university transitions into a fully in-person Fall 2021 semester, international students are tentatively expected to abide by the same guidelines: attending all in-person classes and residing on campus this upcoming semester. 

Plans for international students and traveling next semester still depend on low COVID-19 rates. However, unless there is a drastic change with the embassies and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) due to the pandemic, there will be a push for fully in-person classes next semester, per Doug Christiansen, vice provost for university enrollment affairs. 

“Studying remotely will not be an option unless the status of the pandemic changes dramatically over the spring and summer or public health guidelines advise against in-person instruction,” Christiansen said. 

Currently, the DHS continues to grant permission for online and remote study; however, there have been no updates issued for the Fall 2021 semester as of April 25, 2021. Vanderbilt’s operations for the fall will have to abide by the guidelines set by the DHS for F-1 students—international citizens who are allowed to stay in the U.S. as full-time students—with remote study options if DHS grants permission for the Fall 2021 semester. The DHS has confirmed that through summer, it will continue to allow F-1 students to participate in online and remote study. 

International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at Vanderbilt works to ensure Vanderbilt  maintains institutional compliance with federal regulations, which allows international students to attend the university. 

“ISSS is continuing to monitor the phased reopening of U.S. Embassies and Consulates and will make recommendations for international students next semester based on any developments,” ISSS said in a message to The Hustler on April 14, 2021.

This past school year, access to travel for international students varied, with different travel bans in countries such as the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and China. These bans impacted international students’ ability to reside on campus, per NAFSA: Association of International Educators. According to first-year student Mohammad Khan, an international student from Pakistan, travel embassies in Pakistan implemented travel bans for the Fall 2020 semester. Therefore, Khan studied remotely in Pakistan for the Fall 2020 semester. 

“Due to COVID-19, I as well as a lot of my fellow international students were not able to obtain visas due to the embassies not being open last semester,” Khan said.

According to Khan, Pakistani embassies later opened up for the spring, permitting him to study on campus this semester.

Khan also said that given talks of the Biden administration considering to mandate a vaccine passport for international travelers entering the U.S., entering the country could be problematic for him. International students in developing countries that do not have widely available access to vaccines would not be able to enter the country and study in the U.S., per Khan. 

First-year Taiwanese international student Ashley Wu stated that while it was feasible for her to be in person for both the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, mandating fully in-person classes for international students would not be practical for the upcoming semester.

Due to the quarantine restrictions upon coming to the U.S., Wu said that having the choice to remain off campus could be helpful for international students due to the unpredictability of COVID-19 this year. 

“International students should have the option to stay online next semester due to most of the world not having access to vaccination rollouts and the quarantine restrictions that differ for each country,” Wu said.

 ISSS will continue to update students regarding developments for international student travel and will be available for questions. 

“Restrictions may fluctuate as the national response to the pandemic develops and shifts, and the ISSS staff will stay up to date on U.S. entry restrictions and developments with U.S federal agencies that impact international student and scholar travel abroad,” ISSS said.