Responding to a Crisis in a Student's/Scholar's Home Country

October 01, 2015

Syria: Resources for International Student and Scholar Advisers: This page lists information and resources that can assist international student and scholar advisers in their work with Syrian students, scholars, and their families who are currently in the United States, during the unrest in that country.

Crises in a student's or scholar's home country may be political, social, economic, environmental, or health-related. Floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, political upheaval and war throughout the world can cause enormous stress for those affected. For international students living abroad during such crises, it can be not only emotionally traumatic, but it can also greatly impact their course of studies, immigration status, and financial situation.

Depending on your institution's international student/scholar demographics, such crises may impact just a few or many, many more. The first priority is the well-being of the student/scholar and then to provide assistance with immigration and resources for financial assistance. The following is a list of suggestions for assisting international students and scholars whose home country has experienced a natural disaster/crisis:

Action Items

Contact your Counseling Center immediately to discuss having extra counselors/advisers available for students. This office may set up group sessions that your office can help arrange and publicize.

Refer to Student Health/Counseling Center. If you feel a student is in crisis and needs to see a counselor ASAP, please ask if there is a crisis counselor available. Students/friends experiencing trauma, grief, or loss may need to seek counseling.

If necessary, after speaking with student, determine whether or not it is appropriate to contact a friend or someone to provide support for the student.

Refer employees who are in distress to the Employee Assistance Program. Institutional HR websites will have information on their websites.

Contact your school's international student organizations to offer support and learn about ways you can assist them and they can assist you.

Contact local immigrant communities to see how they are providing support for their community.

Provide embassy/consulate contact information for students so they may inquire about the well-being of family members and have accurate and updated information regarding the crisis in their country.

If necessary, arrange for the student to call home.

Immigration benefits vary greatly between different immigration categories. After determining what immigration status the student holds, some good questions to ask are:

  • What are the standard employment options available to students in that particular immigration category? Is the student eligible for any of those standard options?
  • Does the student qualify under any of the regulatory bases for a reduction in course load for students in that immigration category?
  • What are the immigration implications if the student desires a leave of absence from his or her program of study?
  • Has DHS published any other guidance or notice that may be of assistance to the student?
  • Are there immigration options other than those available in the student's current category?
    • For example, has the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made available any immigration benefit specifically directed toward citizens of the student's country, such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS)?
    • Might the student be eligible to change his or her immigration status?
    • Answers to questions such as these usually require legal advice. Can the student be referred to a list of experienced immigration attorneys that might be able to advise or represent the student? Could your institution's Law School/Clinic provide assistance? Perhaps you could arrange for these groups to make presentations about such options for your students.
  • Remember that if the student's family members are accompanying him or her in the United States, those family members should also take care to maintain their status.

Research and provide students with available financial resources to help pay tuition and fees during such emergencies. Such resources may include an economic hardship tuition waiver provided by your institution. In the case of specific countries and/or emergencies, the Institute of International Education's Emergency Student Fund may also have resources to help.

Schedule information sessions regarding immigration, financial assistance, etc. for affected students and publicize these sessions well (e-mail, flyers, on your office website, etc.). Be proactive—some students may not know about any assistance or resources available to them nor come into your office to ask for help.

Learn about what is being done during the current situation and help promote such efforts, perhaps helping those students affected get involved in the aid effort. During previous crises, many groups and individuals coordinated tremendous efforts to assist those affected (abroad or locally).

Do not speak with the media without permission from the Campus Public Affairs Office.

The Knowledge Community for International Student and Scholar Services (KC ISSS) would like to thank the following 2011 KC ISSS Crisis Management Task Force members for their excellent work on this project:

Darcy McGillicuddy (Chari), University of Texas-Austin; Judith Green, George Mason University; Eric Deschamps, Northern Arizona University; Sheri Beyer, Georgia Institute of Technology; Daphne Orr, Georgia State University; Reviewed by David Fosnocht, NAFSA