While countries such as Australia continue to be under severe restrictions, the US is open for business. Even as this article is penned, dates for US visa appointments for July 2021 are available. Most students have been worried about getting their visa slots, and this news must come as a relief to them. Interestingly, since the student visa (F1) falls under the category of ‘Emergency Visas,’ students across the nation had booked the earliest available date for the visa and then planned to use the ‘Emergency Visa’ slot to pull up their visa appointment dates.
For one to be able to use the Emergency Visa slots, it is imperative to have a visa appointment already. The US rules also state that one can use this facility 60 days prior to the beginning of the program. Typically, the Fall term commences around the 20th of August 2021. But, with dates opening for routine visa appointments, the student community has the opportunity to take a breath of relief and get ready to engage with the Visa Officer. This tete-a-tete would be the final step before preparing for the next step in their journey beyond the proverbial seven seas to gain the best education that the US offers.
At the same time, the US Federal Government has declared its intention to ensure that the Fall 2022 season shall consist of learning via In-Person classes. This decision results from its efforts to ensure that almost 60 per cent of its population has been vaccinated (at least once).
It is imperative to note that while every university has different rules, we expect 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 US, and the costs are fully covered through most health insurance plans. Since the gap between vaccines in India is at least 12 weeks, it does not behove a student to get vaccinated in India. This is primarily due to the paucity of the vaccines for the below 45 age bracket and the lack of options for taking the 2nd shot of the vaccine. Of course, some State governments like Telangana are ensuring that students going for studies abroad get priority in vaccination.
One needs to remember that the earliest one can enter the US is 30 days prior to the beginning of the program. Thus, it would be essential to take the RCPCR Test prior to the date of departure and be ready to enter into quarantine when you land in the US While each State/ University will have its particular standards about the length of the quarantine, it would be prudent for the student to plan for a 2 week to 6 week at-home quarantine should they not be vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine beforehand.
Many American universities, including MIT, Harvard University, and Stanford, have begun accepting World Health Organisation approved vaccines from other countries. A few other vaccines have applied for approval from the WHO and thus add to the list of approved vaccines. We expect this trend to continue in the days ahead and remain confident that university officials will be working closely with their partners in the US government to ensure there is a plan to support international students seeking to return to campus.
On entry to the US, students may be vaccinated with one of three – Johnson and Johnson (1 dose) or Pfizer/Moderna (2 doses with a gap of 4 weeks between doses). If the student gets the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine, then the at-home quarantine shall be just 2 weeks post the shot. However, if the vaccine is Moderna or Pfizer, then the home quarantine could extend to a period of 6 weeks (4 weeks between shots + 2 weeks post the 2nd shot). This is, of course, entirely dependent on State law, and one should contact the university officials to get clarity on the situation.
So, get ready, pack your bags, and get set for the journey of a lifetime.
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