International students can now return home and invite family members to Washington, D.C. for visits after the United States lifted travel restrictions on more than 30 countries earlier this month.
Federal officials lifted travel bans on countries such as Brazil, China, South Africa, India and most of Europe earlier this month, withdrawing restrictions imposed when the country shut down travel at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. 2020. International students said that the lifting of the travel ban will allow them to host loved ones on campus for events such as commencing and repatriation for vacation in the wake of the uncertainty surrounding the safety of global travel.
The decision to ease travel restrictions comes nearly a year after the Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in December before subsequently granting permission for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Officials are still requiring proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test for travelers despite the relaxed restrictions.
Joao Cardoso, a new student specializing in international affairs from Brazil, said the removal of the travel ban was a “comfort” because traveling to the United States would be easier for his family, who would no longer need to obtain visas to enter the country.
“I think it’s becoming clearer that it will be easier to do that travel,” he said. “There are not many restrictions there and it is also easier for people to come here. So it is easier for family members to visit the place if we need help with something. So that was a huge relief.”
Officials said earlier this month that they are developing outreach and recruitment strategies for international students in hopes of offsetting the recent drop in international student enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Worldwide travel restrictions likely caused a 7.5 percent drop in international student enrollment this fall after nationwide totals fell 72 percent, Jay Goff, vice dean of student enrollment and student success, said at a Senate meeting last month. during the last academic year.
Cardoso said the United States does not process many visas while imposing travel restrictions, lengthening the process of visiting family members. he is He said more time was needed for him to see his family members who It is not possible to travel to the United States without a visa.
He said he “hopes” federal officials will speed up the visa process while travel restrictions remain in place.
“I have friends from the US who can come home for the weekend or something, or if they live a little farther they can go there during an extended vacation,” he said. “But it’s not really an option for me, and it’s not really an option for my family. But now that the restrictions are lifted, my parents can come and visit me.”
Cardoso said he has felt isolated from his parents, and has interacted with them digitally via platforms like WhatsApp since moving to campus in August. But he said the lifting of travel restrictions gave him an opportunity to be reunited with them next January.
“What has been difficult, obviously there is a huge factor of homesickness and that kind of thing, and being detached, I will say that — in terms of travel restrictions — I think the big difficulty is that it’s going to take a lot of time for people back home to get visas,” he said. .
Mason Liu, senior Chinese student and business analytics specialist, said that while lifting the travel ban won’t personally affect his travel options, his international student friends can now travel home and see their families on breaks. He said his friends from Australia are now booking flights back home for their winter break to visit family and friends they haven’t seen since August before they moved.
“My Australian friends will definitely be going home,” he said, “and really feel really happy and excited about it.” “They have switched their travel options recently. They never planned to come back in the winter, but after lifting they changed their plan.”
Despite the lifting of the travel ban on China, Liu could not make new plans to return to China because the country’s mandatory 14-day quarantine would have made it difficult for him to visit his family. He said he hoped the epidemic would be more under control by spring so that travel restrictions in China could be eased and his family could travel to the capital to watch him graduate.
“I hope they can succeed this year, and I hope everything will be better and better in the coming months,” he said.
Gerald Koch, professor of medicine and international health and associate director of the Emerging National Laboratories for Infectious Diseases at Boston University, said federal officials lifted the travel ban because it was ineffective and expensive.
“We are in good shape with the outbreak,” he said. “The costs and benefits, the possibility of introducing the virus in exchange for tourism, travel, trade, family, etc. means benefits outweigh risks, and I think those are the kinds of things that are being evaluated.”
He said the effectiveness of the vaccine and the reduction of coronavirus variants will determine how the travel ban continues to be lifted.
“It’s one of those situations where you say, it’s not if but when,” he said. “This is why using public health measures that some people in our country seem to find difficult to accept — wearing masks, limiting proximity to large crowds, immunizing, being careful about the people they interact with — helps drive ongoing transmission of variables that We have it now.”
Erika Filter contributed reporting.