Info on Hosted Students Returning, Visas, and More

Info on Hosted Students Returning, Visas, and More

Dear AFS-USA Volunteers,

It’s been another busy day for the AFS-USA staff and undoubtedly for you as well. I want to assure you that all staff are working around the clock, literally, to do the best work possible and keep you, our participants, host families, and natural parents informed with the most recent information.

Please continue to read MyAFS News for recent communications about the plan for departures of some students on Friday 20 March.

My team is working on a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) resource for volunteers, as we know many of you are encountering questions and concerns about the return of the Year and Semester Program students. This is expected to be published by the end of the day, and we will continually add to the FAQ document as more details are confirmed.

There are three critically important issues that warrant my addressing you directly about: Program Terminations, Visas, and the return of students to Italy.

Program Terminations: 

AFS-USA is not allowing what we traditionally refer to as a Program Release, in which a student ends their AFS program but remains in the U.S. Please support this decision when talking with students and families. Once travel has been arranged, the student must return to their family in their home country. No one can predict the impact of the virus in other countries in the future months and many other countries are experiencing a rapid growth of COVID-19 cases that will last, potentially, for a very long time. Experts are suggesting this may be 6 or more months, and in turn the best thing we can do is to return participants to the care of their own families.

There will be some cases where it is not feasible for a student to fly, one being travel availability to some countries and certain other extenuating circumstances. In these cases, their AFS program will continue, including coverage under the AFS medical plan until they are able to fly home.

While not everyone may understand or agree with the decisions that have been taken, it is important that AFS-USA Volunteers support the decisions.  Although it may be difficult to convince students and host families, I am requesting your assistance in discouraging any student who is contemplating not returning to their home country.

Natural parents and guardians must work with AFS in their home country if they are contemplating not having their child return home on their AFS arranged travel. Natural parents will be made aware of the implications of AFS-USA’s obligation to inform the Department of State when a student’s program ends.

U.S. visa validity for NH19/SH20 students:

Per the guidance provided by the Department of State, staff are required to update the SEVIS record of each participant when a program ends. The program end date will correspond with AFS arranged travel departure. While a 30-day grace period after a program termination applies, we strongly discourage AFS students from remaining in the US after the program ends. Students will be considered “out of status” following the 30-day grace period.

Individuals with a record of overstaying in the U.S. as a minor are handled on a case to case basis by US Consular or USCIS officials when applying for a new visa. Generally, they are not permitted to use the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) to enter the U.S. even if coming from a visa waiver country. Adults (18 years or older) will be subject to the 3 year and 10-year ban depending on length of overstay.

AFS-USA staff are not able to provide additional guidance on this matter.

Returning students – Italy:  

I have been in direct contact with the Partner Director of AFS Italy who confirmed their position that returning students to Italy should be viewed in the same way as returning participants to any other country.

AFS-Italy’s position with natural parents and guardians is that their children must return to their families in Italy. The Italian Government is stressing the need for every Italian citizen –above all minors and students– to return home. AFS-Italy is closely coordinating its repatriation efforts with the Italian government and AFS-USA is committed to supporting. AFS-Italy is in the process of returning all Italian students to Italy, as travel is feasible.

Again, my most sincere appreciation for all you are doing during this unprecedented difficult time.

Thank you,

Tara M. Hofmann
President & CEO