Travel outside the United States funded or organized by Columbia has been suspended until further notice according to a statement put out by Interim Provost Ira Katznelson Tuesday morning.

Due to warnings from the CDC for college campuses to consider canceling travel abroad programs amidst fears of the COVID-19 virus’ spread, Columbia’s interim provost Ira Katznelson informed students and faculty that Columbia has restricted international travel indefinitely and would be working with study abroad students in affected countries to return home in a statement on Tuesday morning.

It has been recommended that Columbia affiliates put off international travel that is deemed non-essential due to the unpredictability of circumstances, travel restrictions, and spread of the disease. Additionally, university funds can no longer be used to finance international travel at this time. Columbia had already restricted travel programs to China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy due to CDC Level 3 travel warnings, but this has been expanded to all international travel deemed non-essential by the university. This decision may affect many students who are studying abroad over spring break.

In an additional statement released Thursday afternoon,  Provost Katznelson detailed plans that the Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement (UGE) is putting in place to ensure the safe return home of Columbia students currently abroad. Students studying in countries designated as CDC COVID-19 Risk Levels 1, 2, or 3 should return to their permanent residence as soon as they are able to (if this poses a safety risk, the students should leave to a safer location). Countries currently at these Risk Levels include China, Italy, Japan, South Korean and Iran. If the CDC adds more countries to these Risk Levels, students in those countries will be required to return to their permanent residences as well.

As for students in countries with increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases, such as France, Germany, Spain, and Singapore, Katznelson recommended that these students strongly consider returning to their permanent residence, particularly if return home becomes more challenging later. Evaluations will be made with individual students about whether it will be possible for the student to remain in-country for the duration of their program, bearing in mind program requirements.

UGE reached out to study abroad students in CC and SEAS via email on March 3 (included in full below) encouraging them to “reach out to your family to discuss this change in your study abroad program and to begin the process of returning home to your permanent residence” and to fill out a support form by 12 pm EST so the Unversity can better support their return. The email also noted that though some programs are able to offer online classes, “there will be cases where academic credit will not be feasible once a student leaves the program.” The financial situation for those coming back from study abroad is also currently unclear; UGE is working with Financial Aid and Educational Financing to determine if there will be an impact on financial aid and with individual programs about refunds of any fees. They noted that all students are being asked to return to their permanent residences in light of the Provost’s message.

Bwog has reached out to each undergraduate school for more information regarding the specific accommodations being made for students. GS and Barnard did reply to our requests for comment at the time of publication; CC and SEAS directed us toward the UGE email sent to study abroad students discussed above. We’ve reached out to UGE for further comment on their message and will update this post with new information.

Interim Provost Katznelson’s statement on 3/3/2020:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

At this time of year, my predecessors traditionally have issued a message noting that during spring break many will be traveling abroad for research, teaching, and learning. Unfortunately, this year is different. In the context of the international reach of COVID-19, there is no choice but to outline restrictions on travel imposed by the spread of the virus. Further, as U.S. travel regulations for citizens of certain countries recently have been expanded, I must describe these as well.

All Columbia affiliates are strongly urged to postpone any non-essential international travel. For students, all upcoming travel outside the United States organized, led, or financed by Columbia is suspended until further notice.

Further, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued guidance that institutes of higher education should “consider postponing or canceling student foreign exchange programs.” This advice is motivated in part by an awareness that, in the near future, “students may face unpredictable circumstances, travel restrictions, challenges in returning home or accessing health care while abroad.” Sharing that concern, I have asked the Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement to contact our students on study abroad programs and begin the process of determining the options for a safe and orderly return home.

As you know, the University has restricted all Columbia Travel to China, South Korea, and now Iran and Italy until further notice in light of the CDC’s Level 3 Travel Warning. Please contact if you believe your trip warrants exemption from these restrictions. The CDC also has issued an Alert Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions for Japan.

Persons who still must travel overseas should make every effort to stay up to date regarding often fast-changing governmental regulations, including Executive Orders and guidance issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Visa and entry restrictions have been placed on Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Myanmar, Sudan, and Tanzania in addition to Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

Please be assured that active oversight and planning take place every day by a policy task force that consults closely with members of our University faculty who are leading research virologists and epidemiologists. Based on their expert guidance, as well as that of the CDC and the New York City and New York State health departments, the University’s core campuses continue to operate normally.

Current circumstances manifestly are uncertain, just the kind of situation that can generate deep anxiety. It is important that all of us modulate our responses to be consistent with the facts and the best information on hand.

I close with appreciation for the professionalism and thoughtful calm that characterize how our community is grappling with difficult current pressures.


Interim Provost Katznelson’s statement on 3/5/2020:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

On Monday, I wrote to ask the Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement (UGE) to contact our students on study abroad programs to begin the process of determining options for a safe and orderly return home. I am writing now with more detail, based on advice from Columbia’s public health experts, to explain how this policy will be implemented. The University’s approach, of course, may need to be revised as events concerning COVID-19 develop. Our first concern is safety. Hence, the following distinctions apply not only to UGE programs but to the wider Columbia community. 

Students in countries designated as CDC COVID-19 Risk Levels 1, 2 or 3, who have not yet returned to their permanent residence (or a safer location, if they are not able to go home), should do so as soon as safely possible. This set of locations currently includes China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. As more countries are added to these designations by the CDC, this requirement will apply to students there as well.

Students on study abroad programs in countries with evidence of increasing community spread, marked by a rising number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases, should seriously consider returning home given the potential for a more severe outbreak. We are also concerned that it might later be difficult to return home. Current examples include France, Germany, Spain, and Singapore.

Where there is currently no evidence of significant community spread, an evaluation will be made with each student, based on the program requirements and end dates, concerning the potential to remain in place to complete the semester.

As the situation develops, the University will be reviewing this guidance and will promptly communicate any changes.

Email from UGE to study abroad students:

Dear Study Abroad Student,

In the March 3 community message from Interim Provost Ira Katznelson, the University asked that all Columbia students currently studying abroad work with the Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement (UGE) to determine safe and orderly options for their return home. If you have not already done so, please reach out to your family to discuss this change in your study abroad program and to begin the process of returning home to your permanent residence.

To help us assist you, please complete the UGE COVID-19 Support Form by noon EST on Thursday, March 5.
After you complete the form, a UGE adviser will contact you within 24-48 hours regarding next steps and will reach out to your program to begin developing a specific plan for you after you have returned to your permanent residence. As we consult with program and University partners to confirm your options, we ask for your patience.

If you wish to immediately return to your Epermanent residence, please still fill out the UGE COVID-19 Support Form but also feel free to begin the process of changing your flight(s) and making any other travel arrangements as needed. Please also be sure to inform your program about your decision to return home to your permanent residence and follow any of their directives related to this process.  Ultimately, all students are being asked to return home to their permanent address, given the Provost’s message.

We are working with internal and external program partners on contingency plans for the completion of your semester. Some programs are able to offer online learning options. We also anticipate that there will be cases where academic credit will not be feasible once a student leaves the program. UGE supports any student who decides to leave their program at this time and we are, therefore, in discussions with University offices about the potential impact on students’ academic progress and alternative options.

We are working closely with Financial Aid and Educational Financing to determine the potential impact of program withdrawals on students’ financial aid, and we will work with your study abroad program on any potential refunds for housing and other program fees. This will vary based on each student’s program and situation, and it may take some time to determine your specific details. We recognize this may be stressful and may raise many questions. We appreciate your patience. Please trust that we are working diligently to provide answers as soon as possible.

Please follow along with updates specific to study abroad students on UGE’s COVID-19 web page.

Thank you for keeping in touch with us. Know that we are actively working through the various options for students so we can best support each and every one of you during this difficult time.