Yale relaxes int’l travel restrictions

Students hoping to spend their summers studying in Bhutan, Burma or Bangladesh can now rest easy.

But first, they should be sure to apply for Yale-sponsored grants or fellowships to help subsidize their exotic excursions — for their trips are now eligible for University support. Under a new policy formalized last week, the University will lift its ban on Yale-sponsored undergraduate travel to dozens of countries and simplify how restrictions on foreign travel are developed and applied.

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Previously, Yale forbade University-sponsored student travel to at least some regions of 75 countries. Now, that number will drop to about 25, officials said.

The new policy replaces one developed in 2003 under which University administrators identified dozens of countries to which Yale-sponsored travel by undergraduates might need to be restricted and then reassessed the list semiannually. Now, the University will only restrict travel to countries based on recommendations by the U.S. State Department and to those the travel-assistance organization MEDEX has listed as carrying a very high threat level.

The policy, as Director of International Affairs Donald Filer put it, “ensures that students are making their plans based on the latest determinations by the organizations that have the best information about travel safety” — and not by University administrators thousands of miles away.

“That was awkward,” Barbara Rowe, the director of the Office of International Education and Fellowship Programs, said of the old policy.

The policy was also complicated, Yale officials said. Every six months, administrators would meet and, using the State Department’s list and other sources, decide which countries posed active threats. In the meantime, whenever a country fell into crisis, it too would be added to the list; only at the next review would the country’s status be reconsidered, even if not a bullet had been fired since the day the country was marked off limits.

Nevertheless, a complex exemption process allowed students to fight any of those restrictions. It was a Byzantine system, Filer said.

“The feedback we got from everybody, including students, was that they much prefer a simpler, more transparent system,” he said. “That’s the idea.”

Under the new system, Yale will not sponsor, fund or give credit for any undergraduate academic or extracurricular junket to countries from which either the State Department orders non-essential American personnel to evacuate or recommends that civilian Americans depart. If the State Department warns civilians against traveling there or suggests deferring such travel, that too renders a nation off-limits, as does a very high threat level assessment by MEDEX.

Right now, about 25 countries meet one of those three criteria, Filer said; the new policy does not allow for exceptions.

The new policy could encourage students to take a more active role in familiarizing themselves with the climate in any country in which they might want to travel, rather than merely looking at a list on the Yale Web site, as is the case under the current policy, administrators said.

Now, students will be expected to visit the State Department Web site — where a trove of information is available for every country in the world, especially those currently experiencing political or security uncertainty — and then consider their travel plans based on the materials they have read, administrators said.

The new procedure, Rowe said, “was developed as a way of helping students become more informed about the risks they are taking.” Additional resources will also be available through the Yale Web site and through MEDEX, a company contracted by the University from which Yale affiliates can obtain an ID card that would help them obtain assistance abroad in the event of an emergency.

The overhaul had been in the works for several months, Filer said, although administrators have been hearing complaints about the current system for several years.

“This is a more straightforward policy,” Rowe said, “and it’ll be easier for students to figure out from the get-go.”

Yale’s policy too is now more in line with that of its peers, most of which base their restrictions on the State Department’s advisories.

With the exception of the MEDEX component, the policy is more or less identical to Harvard’s. Princeton and Stanford, meanwhile, continue with a slightly more stringent policy, according to travel policies posted to their Web sites. They forbid all student travel to countries for which the State Department has issued warnings, regardless of the severity of such notices.

The new policy goes into effect immediately, Filer said; students with questions about how it affects their summer plans, he added, should contact officials in the office through which they have made their plans, such as IEFP or Undergraduate Career Services.

The new policy does not, however, apply to graduate or professional students. They should check with administrators in their respective school or program to determine what regulations could apply to their travel, officials said.

Comments

  • Stupid

    It doesn't really make sense to not provide the list of 25 still-restricted countries. At least there should be direct links from the obscure Yale travel website to the appropriate Medex website with the country ratings (I can't find it…) and a clearer explanation of the State Dept. requirements. Do they mean only countries with Travel Alerts rather than Travel Warnings are restricted? Make it clear! Gah

  • Anne

    I don't understand why a list of the 25 restricted countries is not provided. I am also dubious that any system which does not allow for ANY exceptions is an improvement. What is the rationale for this? No list can be so perfect that some exceptions are not worth considering.