Written by: Elizabeth Capuano, Janet Ray, Dan Berger & Ella Connolly

A blog with this title was published on the NAFSA website in 2017.  Now, three years later, the level of uncertainty keeps growing with politics and public health making it particularly hard to give clear advice.  This writeup provides some tips on advising in the face of uncertainty, and we hope will reassure you that you are not the only one feeling insecure these days!

There are detailed, practical resources produced by NAFSA that will continue to be updated. NAFSA also cites other reputable resources available for you to use and refer to, has topic pages such as entry to the US during COVID, and over time information is folded into the NAFSA Adviser’s Manual. This is more critical than ever because of the amount of misinformation and rumors circulating.  The NAFSA regional and national listservs are a tremendous source of information – and it’s useful to read the back and forth on issues where there is no clear answer.  Don’t hesitate to ask a question – if you have that question, chances are others do also.  If you are newer, feel free to run your question by a more senior NAFSAn first before posting.

Do not be afraid to say I don’t know or I’m not sure.

Some government policies were not carefully drafted, the interpretation by various agencies has been changing, and the courts are now involved in many areas of immigration law. We can express strong support for our international populations even in situations where we cannot give them direct and immediate advice. Some schools may decide to refer difficult cases to immigration attorneys or nonprofit organizations, others may be more comfortable advising on a wider variety of issues.

For the short and long term, focus on connections.

Good communication and working relationships will be key to responding to situations. In particular, keep in regular touch with:

  • Your government relations office and general counsel to share NAFSA updates and difficult situations.
  • Your government relations office and general counsel (or other designated institutional stakeholders on campus) to determine if your institution wants to be involved in sharing examples of impacted students and scholars, and requesting direct assistance.
  • Your local CBP office, to ask for advice on particular individuals traveling, and to have contact if there is a problem.

Here are two links that talk more about outside resources and litigation in particular.

Use NAFSA’s IssueNet platform to share good examples of institutional response, not just problems.

IssueNet is a tool available to NAFSA members and non-members. If you see or have a particularly good institutional response – a website, e-mail to students, update for administrators – please submit them. These can be models for other schools that NAFSA can share. As just one example of many good institutional responses, here is a statement from a University president.

Look to others who have been there before.

Many NAFSA members have been through crises, or times of major regulatory uncertainty. It can be a challenge to keep calm to support your international population when tension is rising. Seek out NAFSA leaders and experienced members for advice and empathy!

  • Designated School Officials at peer institutions- Find and connect with colleagues at institutions which have a similar demographics to your own.
  • In-house expertise-You may find colleagues in other departments across your institution have just the expertise you need. For example, many campuses have a thriving Dean of Students office, where staff are particularly adept at working with students through emotional, academic and family-related turmoil.

Prioritize, and take time to breathe.

We can unfortunately, expect 2020, and even part of 2021 to be a period of serious uncertainty. Don’t try to come up with a comprehensive strategy right away. People who have plane tickets in the next few days or weeks need immediate attention. Others may have to wait for you to have more time, and for there to be more information.  One step at a time.

And please pay attention to your own mental and physical well-being. Recognize that you can’t help students to the best of your ability unless you are also taking care of yourself.