Nassau, The Bahamas – As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to plague the world, current and prospective Bahamian students pursuing studies in the United States are being urged to register with the nearest Bahamian embassy/consulate to their respective college or university.
During a recent interview with Sidney S. Collie Ambassador to the United States, and Permanent Representative to the OAS Embassy/Permanent Mission of The Bahamas in Washington, DC., he stressed the importance of registering with the nearest consulate/embassy.
According to Ambassador Collie, there are currently about 120 Bahamian students registered with the Embassy Consular Annex of The Bahamas in the Washington D.C. Metro Area. He noted, however, that there are over 345 Bahamian students registered with the Annex within its 24 state jurisdictions. Bahamian Consulates in Miami, New York and Atlanta also maintain diaspora databases within their respective jurisdictions.
“In this regard, many Bahamian students do not know that they should register with the nearest consulate/embassy in their area, which makes it challenging for foreign missions to truly account for Bahamian students in their geographic area,” said the Ambassador.
He said that in 2018 to 2019, the Embassy Consular Annex embarked on the Campus Outreach Tour and was able to register students during this time; however, he highly recommended that students register with the nearest embassy/consulate. Students can visit the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to find an office near them at https://mofa.gov.bs/diplomatic-relations/bahamas-overseas-offices/embassies/
As it relates to Covid-19 protocols, Ambassador Collie emphasized that policies are frequently changing. He noted that the area known as Washington DC also incorporates Maryland and Virginia -- altogether known as the DMV -- and the policies there are decided by the Governors of each state.
“Regarding strictures in place for health and safety, Mayor Bowser implemented a 14 day quarantine for persons traveling into DC from hotpots within the US. This could be expanded to include other territories if the District of Colombia determines it appropriate,” he said. “Given the rapidly changing circumstances of Covid-19 these policies change frequently.”
He also pointed out that the US Embassy in Nassau is the relevant authority for providing definitive information on US government policies so Bahamian students should always consult them before making plans.
“It is vital, therefore, that students considering a fall semester in the DMV pay close attention to developments in the respective State, consulting closely with the University itself,” he explained. “Students should carefully research all aspects of the situation and determine their course of action accordingly.”
As it relates to current US policies for students wishing to pursue studies including returning students, Ambassador Collie said that there is no specific U.S. policy regarding Bahamian students.
“There are also different visa categories that fall under the category of student or work and study exchange; however, most Bahamian students enter the U.S. on F1 visas to obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees,” he explained.
He referred to a previous statement released by the US due to the Coronavirus pandemic on 6 July, 2020 concerning foreign students which informed that international students attending schools operating entirely online, would not be able pursue full-time on-line course loads and remain in the U.S. It stated that visas would not be issued to students enrolled in schools/programs that are fully on-line.
It went to say that active students currently in the U.S, enrolled in such programs would have had to transfer to a school/program with in-person classes or leave the country immediately. If students did not leave, they would be subject to deportation. That statement was later changed.
“This statement was quickly rescinded, due to protest and legal action taken by several schools. The U.S. policy now clarifies that new international students, unlike continuing international students, cannot study in the U.S. and take 100% online course load in the fall.”
Guidance issued by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), a division of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) reaffirmed that new international students may enroll in hybrid programs consisting of a mix of in-person and on-line courses, as long as their coursework is not 100 percent online. Additional information can be found here: https://www.state.gov/
As it relates to the return to the classroom for the upcoming semester, he said that In March 2020, the Embassy Consular Annex established the Bahamian Student Outlook to identify and provide support for Bahamian students impacted by the pandemic within the 24 state jurisdictions. This entails the following:
i. Continued contact with leadership at various universities and colleges to be informed of their policies and contingency plans as it relates to their COVID-19 response and its impact on international students.
ii. Provide important information on travel requirements, restrictions, and resources. This includes advising students to contact the relevant U.S. authorities, such as the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, SEVP and international student advisors at their schools.
iii. Continued communication with student liaisons on campuses with substantial Bahamian student populations. Student liaisons are Bahamian students who have been identified as leaders in the Bahamian community on campus and update the Annex periodically or when necessary.