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Increasing vaccine distribution and global-minded U.S. leadership promise a bright future for international students.

Tourists walk near the reflecting pool in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, DC

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This past weekend, in big cities and small towns across America, thousands of university students did something that would have been difficult to imagine just a few short months ago.

After so many months of learning virtually through computer screens and over Zoom, they put on their caps and gowns, waved to loved ones tearfully cheering them on, and walked across the stage, in person, to receive their diplomas and graduate.

After 15 months of unprecedented loss and hardship from the relentless COVID-19 pandemic, we can now say without hesitation the words that we’ve been waiting for: America has reopened, and it’s happened faster than any of us had thought possible.

But it didn’t happen by accident.

Since December of 2019, the United States has deployed the most aggressive vaccine distribution effort in the history of our nation. In just five months, more than 60% of the U.S. population (that’s over 275 million people!) have received at least one dose of the available COVID vaccine.

The results have been extraordinary. New cases, which were at troubling levels as recently as February and March, have plummeted to some of the lowest counts since the pandemic began, and are dropping every day. Through a truly remarkable collaboration between government, nonprofits and the private sector across the nation, vaccines are widely available throughout the country. And just recently, the Biden Administration announced the expansion of vaccinations to young people ages 12 to 16, which will significantly further our percentage of the population that is vaccinated.

Observing the country’s stunning progress last Thursday, President Biden heralded “a great day for America” as he touted new guidance that solidifies the many ways in which we can finally begin to return to our pre-pandemic lives, including removing restrictions on both indoor and outdoor activities for people who have been vaccinated.

No one has been immune from the impacts of the COVID pandemic, and those of us committed to international higher education have had to deal with immense challenges in making sure students from across the world can have access to a transformational U.S. university experience. That is why we are thrilled and relieved to share that we are confident the coming summer and fall semesters will be incredibly bright for international students.

So, what does America’s rapid reopening mean for international students?

First, it is important to note that while every university has different rules, it is our expectation that many of them will require students to be vaccinated to participate in on-campus study. All international students are eligible for vaccines when they arrive in the U.S., and the costs are fully covered through most health insurance plans.

Additionally, many American universities including Harvard University, New York University and American University, have begun accepting World Health Organization approved vaccines from other countries, including Sinopharm, in addition to the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines that are widely available in the U.S. We expect this trend to continue in the days ahead, and are confident that university officials will be working closely with their partners in government to ensure there is a plan in place to support international students seeking to return to campus.

And beyond America’s exceptional vaccination efforts, there are also many signs that now is as good a time as ever for international students to study in the United States. With the change in leadership in Washington, D.C., public perception of international students continues to improve as more of our leaders at every level of government learn and understand the contributions and value that international students bring to our campus communities.

And yet despite all of the positive news, I would be remiss if I did not also address the devastation that is currently unfolding in India, and other countries across the world that are currently experiencing their worst weeks of the pandemic. Just as so many other countries stepped up to help the U.S. when the first wave of the pandemic crashed down upon us, so too do I believe the United States has a responsibility to send aid and support to countries facing this current surge. To date, the U.S. has sent millions of doses of vaccine abroad, and millions more are on their way. We can and must keep pressing the Biden administration to do more to assist those in need globally.

While there is clearly still work to be done to fully recover from the darkness of the past year, I am deeply optimistic that the future is incredibly bright for international students. We will continue to work to remove any remaining obstacles that could impact our students, and we could not be more excited to welcome you in the weeks and months ahead.

Best regards,
Tom Dretler
Chair, U.S. News Global Education
Cofounder and CEO, Shorelight
Board member, Johns Hopkins University School of Education


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