SIT Policy on Programs and Travel in Elevated Risk Locations

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SIT Study Abroad has a team of trained Student Affairs duty officers available 24 hours a day to respond to potential threats to student safety and manage emergency situations. 

Call: 802.258.3212

See also: COVID-19 Emergency Protocols for School for International Training (SIT) Study Abroad Programs

Purpose of Policy

As part of its commitment to ensuring the safety, security and well-being of all personnel and program participants, the School for International Training (SIT) monitors daily ongoing and evolving global situations including political unrest, natural/weather disaster and public health matters. We rely on a variety of sources for actual or potential risk to students and staff, including daily Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) news summaries, International SOS and AIG risk alerts, Centers for Disease Control information, local health ministries and other government sources, as well as global and local news sources.  We also rely heavily on our staff teams on the ground to provide proactive updates about issues of concern and potential impact to our students and site. Our staff, in turn, rely on local program networks, including local authorities, U.S. embassy services, and informal sources. 

When there are programs or travel proposed or taking place in “Elevated Risk” regions, SIT utilizes the U.S. Department of State (DOS) Travel Advisory System (here) as a primary initial assessment tool to guide decisions regarding travel and programs in Elevated Risk locations. 

The policy applies to all SIT study abroad students.  It also applies to SIT graduate students, except for the period of their program when they are undertaking their practicum.  *Graduate students may propose locations for their practicum in Elevated Risk regions, but they must receive approval prior to traveling to any elevated risk location for their practicum work.

Definitions

SIT defines “Elevated Risk” locations as:

  • Countries with an overall US Department of State Risk Level 3 – Reconsider Travel or Level 4 – Do Not Travel advisory rating.
  • Regions within Level 1 or Level 2 countries that the US Department of State has assigned a “Reconsider Travel” or “Do Not Travel” level to.
  • Any country impacted by a pandemic, serious public health emergency, and/or natural/weather disaster.

Policy and Procedures Statement

SIT’s policy on locations defined as “Elevated Risk” is as follows:

Programs in Countries with an overall Level 4 – Do Not Travel Advisory Rating

Program activities in any country where there is a Level 4 – Do Not Travel Advisory Rating are prohibited and will not be considered. 

If an existing program was designated Level 1, 2 or 3 by DOS at time of program approval and inception, but is then changed at any time to a Level 4 Advisory Level during the program, steps will be made to safely relocate students to another nearby country where programming can continue, or arrange for return to the United States if continuation of the program abroad is not feasible.

Programs in Countries with a Level 3 – Reconsider Travel Advisory Level

If a program is at a Level 3 Advisory, either at inception or through a change during the program, the matter is taken up by the SIT Risk Committee.  The SIT Risk Committee is responsible for evaluating risk factors across all programs and will decide next steps.

As part of its review, the Risk Committee considers a number of factors, including safety and security assessments at the specific locations within the country where program activities would be taking place, information from relevant staff and stakeholders on the ground, and emergency and contingency measures proposed to make sure they address the risks related to the elevated advisory level.  Based on an evaluation of all these factors, the Risk Committee will decide whether or not to approve the program activity.

Following the review, the SIT Risk Committee will decide to either:

  1. Approve continuation of program activities.

OR

  • Cancel the program, either temporarily or long-term, due to the deteriorating safety and security environment.

The decision of the SIT Risk Committee, and the reasons for it, will be documented and formally shared with relevant stakeholders.

Locations within a country that the US Department of State has advised Reconsider Travel or Do Not Travel To (regardless of what the overall Advisory Level is for that country)

While the US Department of State issues an overall Travel Advisory level for a country, levels of advice may vary for specific locations or areas within a country. For instance, DOS may advise at a country level to “Exercise Increased Caution” (Level 2), but to “Reconsider Travel” to an area within the country. 

SIT’s policy is that within any country, a region designated by DOS as Reconsider Travel or Do Not Travel must go through the SIT Risk Committee review and approval process, even if that region is within a country that has a Level 1 or 2 designation for the country overall.  Activities can proceed in other parts of the country if the country does not fall under SIT’s definition of Elevated Risk.

Locations Impacted by a Public Health Emergency

While international travel and living abroad have always entailed certain risks, SIT recognizes that these risks will be heightened for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19 and the logistical restrictions related to it.

During times of public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, SIT considers a broader set of resources to determine the health and associated risks in any location.  The primary indices SIT looks at regarding risk at the country level during health emergencies are 1) U.S. Department of State (DOS) travel advisories, 2) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel health notices, and 3) International SOS COVID-19 Impact Scales (proprietary information available to SIT through our medical and travel security partnership with ISOS).  In addition, SIT closely examines:

  • guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), local healthy ministries and other relevant government agencies;
  • actions taken by national and local governments in our host locations abroad, such as movement restrictions or quarantine requirements that we must comply with and that can potentially impact the program; and
  • the expertise and knowledge of our staff teams on the ground to guide the policies and procedures put forth in each program-specific COVID-19 Risk Management Plan.

As is the case during periods when there is no public health emergency, SIT will not run any programs in locations that have a DOS Level 4 – Do Not Travel Advisory Rating.  

For any countries that are lower than a DOS Level 4 – Do Not Travel Advisory Rating during a public health emergency, the SIT Risk Assessment Committee will decide whether to proceed with programming based on a holistic analysis of the circumstances in each location.  This analysis will include consideration of the indices and resources mentioned above. 

Any program approved by the Risk Assessment Committee during a public health emergency is required to have a robust Risk Management Plan that is distinctively tailored to the host location and outlines protocols and mitigation measures to address the risks posed by the health emergency.  These health focused Risk Management Plans are intended to supplement the existing emergency and contingency plans which we have consistently maintained for each of our programs