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Harvard International Students Face Travel Uncertainty Amid Pandemic

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67, pictured here in December 2019, said in an interview last week that international students may face uncertainty around travel, visa compliance, and immigration issues due to coronavirus.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67, pictured here in December 2019, said in an interview last week that international students may face uncertainty around travel, visa compliance, and immigration issues due to coronavirus. By Camille G. Caldera
By Benjamin L. Fu and Dohyun Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

International Harvard undergraduates could face uncertainty around travel, visa compliance, and immigration issues amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said in a March 28 interview.

“Just recently in the past week or so there have been changes in at least what the possibilities would be for someone being able to enter the United States. So that’s another big issue,” Fitzsimmons said. “But there are all kinds of complexities about visas beyond that.”

In a March 26 email to international students, the International Office wrote that “any future travel to the U.S. may be impacted by the U.S. government’s travel suspension.”

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic — and an accompanying Level 4 health advisory admonishing global travel — the United States Department of State suspended normal visa services indefinitely at all of its embassies and consulates beginning March 20.

The State Department has not yet announced when they will resume; it currently offers only emergency visa services.

The process of acquiring a visa for international students can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. However, as F and M visas for new students can be issued no more than 120 days before beginning a course of study, incoming undergraduates still have around a month before they can begin applying for a visa.

Fitzsmmons said he recognizes students may feel insecure traveling away from loved ones, given the growing crisis.

“One question with the coronavirus is whether or not families would feel comfortable, or students would feel comfortable, about going far from home, whether it’s even some part of the United States or from another country,” Fitzsimmons said.

The Harvard International Office has reassured current international students — who compose about 11 percent of the Harvard College student body — that they will be able to return to the United States in September as long as required immigration documents such as unexpired passports and visas are in order. Moreover, the legal immigration status of students currently on a visa should not change if they continue to make progress in their studies.

The International Office is offering online webinars so that students can ask questions and share concerns with office staff and Mark C. Elliott, Harvard's Vice Provost for International Affairs. It also established a coronavirus webpage to address common concerns from students and scholars.

“As you will be maintaining your student visa status while taking your full-time on-line classes, you should be able to reenter the U.S. once the various travel bans are lifted,” the website reads.

—Staff writer Benjamin L. Fu can be reached at benjamin.fu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenFu_2.

—Staff writer Dohyun Kim can be reached at dohyun.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @dohyunkim__.

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CollegeAdmissionsCollege NewsInternational StudentsCoronavirus