Update for AFS-USA Volunteers About Shortened Hosting Programs

Update for AFS-USA Volunteers About Shortened Hosting Programs

Dear AFS-USA Volunteers,

As we are all aware, AFS International has recently made the difficult decision to shorten the programs of currently hosted students, here in the US and around the world. In the US, this affects all hosting programs with the exception of FLEX and YES Sponsored Programs students for which no change has been announced by the US Department of State.

During the last few days, over 200 currently hosted students have already returned home. Thank you to our volunteers, host families, and staff who mobilized so well for this first group of student returns.

Over the coming days, we are turning our attention to subsequent groups of return travelers, starting with returns of students from Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Iceland in the next couple of days. Later this week, we will begin the return of our students from the following list of countries. I need to emphasize that the return of additional students this week is dependent upon the ability to arrange domestic travel in the US and international flights to their home countries and on flights that are not cancelled:

•    Australia
•    Belgium (BFR and BFL)
•    Bolivia
•    Costa Rica
•    Ecuador
•    Finland
•    France
•    Germany
•    Guatemala
•    Hong Kong
•    India (non-YES)
•    Indonesia (non-YES)
•    Italy
•    Latvia
•    Mexico
•    New Zealand
•    Norway
•    Paraguay
•    Peru
•    Russia
•    Slovenia
•    Spain
•    Sweden
•    Tunisia (non-YES)
•    Turkey (non-YES)

As we mentioned in last week’s update, student returns will continue to be a long-term operation and will likely continue for several more weeks. We can appreciate that not all parents, host parents, students, or volunteers will agree with the decision that our Network has made to shorten programs and return students to their families. We continue to believe it is in the best interest of students to return to their families, whenever and wherever possible. Students, host parents, and parents/guardians will be communicated with when arrangements are made to return students home. Rest assured, AFS continues to move forward as thoughtfully as possible, with the best interests of the students as our topmost priority.

For students who are departing this week: 
•    Field staff are already in direct contact with students and host families from Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Iceland about their return travel. Volunteers in the teams have been CCed on the messages to those students and families this weekend.
•    Host families and hosted students will receive an email on Monday with additional details regarding next steps. Team Chairs, Support Coordinators, Associate Support Coordinators, Hosting Coordinators, and Liaisons in those Teams will be CCed on the message.
•    AFS partner offices are booking travel and, in some cases, are communicating directly with hosted participants regarding their flight information. It is possible that the students may find out their return travel information before you do. Please remember that you can pull a departure travel report in Global link for your team. Instructions for doing so were included in the March 17 message you received from me.
•    As travel is arranged, AFS-USA staff will be reaching out directly to host families and students to confirm they have received the student’s travel information and e-ticket.
•    Host families will be asked to drive their student to the departure airport. If the host family is unable to do so, they will be asked to reach out to their AFS liaison or to other volunteers in the team in order to make other arrangements, such as carpooling.
•    On the day of the student’s departure, we are asking that the host family or volunteer who drives the student to the airport please remain near the airport until the student’s flight has departed, in case there are any last-minute cancellations.
•    It is not possible at this time for AFS staff to know the luggage restrictions for the individual airline your student may be flying on. If there are questions about current airline luggage restrictions, please check the airline’s website.
•    International tickets are e-tickets. The flight itinerary will be available in MyAFS & Global Link, once the partner has arranged travel.

One issue of which you should be aware is that in these difficult circumstances, AFS-USA is unable to provide the same level of service to traveling participants. Whether it’s a missed or cancelled connection or an airport closure, we are no longer able to meet students and provide accommodations overnight, either due to tighter restrictions in airports or the issuance of shelter in place requirements in numerous cities and states. We are working with volunteers in the cities through which AFSers will be transited in order to provide airport guidance by telephone, helping them to navigate the next steps. Local volunteers are able to give students very specific information based on their personal knowledge of their city’s airport. In other words, we’re aiming to give students access to someone familiar with the airport so that we’re able to guide them more thoroughly since AFS Staff and Volunteers cannot be there to help them in person.

In the event that it is not possible for a participant to travel, AFS-USA will continue to provide support until it becomes feasible for the student to return to their family in their home country. AFS Staff and Volunteers will remain available to assist all students who will remain with their host families until travel is secured.

If you have any questions, please contact us at covid19@afsusa.org.

Thank you,

Tara M. Hofmann
President & CEO