Throughout the summer and the fall of 2020, it has been a challenge for all schools to repopulate their campuses. In addition to state requirements, local conditions, and parent concerts, boarding schools with international students face additional challenges to get students back on campus. The primary issues are twofold: new students acquiring visa appointments, and travel restrictions for students entering the United States from certain countries (e.g. China). Not much can be done by a school for visa appointments, as embassy offices remain open, closed, or with limited appointments based on the local conditions in the foreign country. The second problem, that of travel restrictions for certain countries like students traveling from China, does have a solution: the third-country entry.
In late October, Thomas Jefferson School organized and chaperoned a trip to Mexico in order to help students arrive back on campus. The plan came about because families did not want to navigate their own third-country entry plans, and because of skepticism about changes to travel restrictions in the near future.
Third-country entry for students is necessary because anyone entering the US from restricted countries, like China, must spend 14 calendar days in a third country that does not have a travel restriction before entering the United States. To be clear, this plan does not work for students without a visa, like those who cannot get an embassy appointment. However, anyone with an active multiple-entry visa should be able to enter the United States from a third-country.
When exploring which countries would be possible for a third-country entry, we needed to find a country that accommodates the following factors: US citizens can travel, Chinese citizens can travel, no mandatory quarantine upon arrival, low or no visa requirements for US citizens, and low or no visa requirements for Chinese citizens. A country that meets all of the criteria is Mexico. Chinese citizens with a valid US multi-entry visa (like a F-1 student visa) can go to Mexico for up to 180 days and US citizens are allowed to currently travel (unlike Canada, Europe, or many other countries). Additionally, the time zone in Mexico City is the same as our local time zone in St. Louis, MO.
While in Mexico City, students took classes remotely and worked on homework throughout the week. Room and board costs through tuition covered some expenses during the trip. Facilitating the third-country entry plan, for us, only is cost effective when taking into account the additional boarding revenue from having students on campus earlier than late January (or at all this school year). Families paid for travel expenses, both to Mexico City, and flights from Mexico City to St. Louis, MO. The school covered costs of the hotel, food, and transportation.
The trip was extremely successful due to the trust we had built with our families over the years. While not every family took us up on the opportunity to come back to campus, the students we were able to bring back came with a unique story to share with their peers, and memories of a special time as a tourist/resident in a country they may have never visited.
Matthew Troutman, Ph.D.
Head of School, Thomas Jefferson School,
4100 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63127