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Europe is reopening its borders and students may soon be allowed to return

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • European countries are now opening their borders to each other, with some restrictions, at a time when coronavirus infection rates are lower on the continent and when the travel and tourism industries are in dire need of a boost
  • The European Commission recommends that travellers be allowed in from select non-EU countries as of 1 July
  • The European Commission also recommends that those coming to the EU for study be exempted from broader travel restrictions

Countries within the European Union are now opening their borders to each other, and some are planning to welcome travellers from specific countries outside of Europe as early as July.

Even in cases where EU members collectively agree that travel restrictions cannot generally be lifted for a non-EU country, the European Commission (EC) recommends that international students are to be exempted and permitted to enter for study purposes:

“Where the travel restrictions continue to apply, Member States should ensure that those travelling to study are exempted, together with highly skilled non-EU workers if their employment is necessary from an economic perspective and the work cannot be postponed or performed abroad.”

This new phase of reopening occurs at a time when in most parts of the EU, fewer than 100 people are infected with COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants –quite an accomplishment given the prevalence of the virus on the continent just weeks ago.

A return to travel and tourism

The European Commission (EC) has now recommended (as of 15 June) that the 27 EU member states as well as Schengen member states (i.e., most EU countries plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein) reopen to travellers from within Europe as a result of the pandemic’s loosened hold on the continent.

However, the ultimate decision about when and how to open rests with individual countries. As an example of this, Greece is about to open its borders to other Europeans but will also ask visitors from certain regions – such as Paris, Madrid, and the Lombardy region in Italy – to “undergo mandatory tests and spend their first night on Greek soil in a designated hotel.”

But the situation is still considered to be fluid. As the recent outbreak in Beijing illustrates, the virus can quickly take hold again in an area in which it seemed to be under control. The EC guidance explains,

“It will always be possible, if necessary, to reintroduce the travel restrictions for a specific country in case conditions in the checklist are no longer met, and in particular if the epidemiological situation worsens or in case the situation with regard to reciprocity changes.”

Targeted approach for non-EU travellers

Because the pandemic continues to spread in some countries outside of Europe, a general lifting of travel restrictions for non-EU countries is not yet advised. That said, the EC proposes a coordinated approach to identify some non-EU countries with lower COVID-19 risk profiles; travellers from these countries would be allowed to enter as of 1 July. Selected countries will be those where the “epidemiological situation is similar or better than the EU average and where sufficient capabilities to deal with the virus are in place.”

European Commissioner for Home Affairs, YlvaJohansson, added,

“International travel is key for tourism and business, and for family and friends reconnecting. While we will all have to remain careful, the time has come to make concrete preparations for lifting restrictions with countries whose health situation is similar to the EU’s and for resuming visa operations.”

The EC recommends the following criteria for assessing whether restrictions can be lifted for particular non-EU countries:

  • “The number of new infections per 100,000 population;
  • The trend in new infection rate;
  • The country’s overall response to COVID-19, taking into account available information on aspects such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting.”

Another requirement is the assurance that physical distancing protocols are in place throughout the journey for non-EU travellers, which will involve cooperation with airlines operating from various countries.

Most importantly for students, agents, and educators: The EC is recommending that even if travel is not yet generally permitted from a specific country outside the EU that exemptions be allowed for international students.

Status as of 16 June

Germany and Italy have already opened their borders to fellow Europeans, while France will open its borders on 22 June.

Spain plans to accept EU arrivals on 21 June, and Greece’s airports are now receiving travellers from Europe with plans to accept arrivals from New Zealand, Australia, and Japan as well.

Switzerland, a Schengen member state, is also open to EU travellers, but remains closed to Sweden because of the latter’s relatively high infection rate. Norway has also excluded Sweden from its list of lifted travel restrictions, as has Austria. Austria remains closed as well to Portugal, Spain, and the UK.

Swedes cannot currently enter Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia or Slovenia either – nor can Britons.

Last week, the UK imposed its own 14-day quarantine requirement for most arrivals (Ireland is the main exception) – a decision made weeks after most EU countries had taken that measure. As a result, many EU countries are either requiring Britons to quarantine for 14 days or not letting British travellers in at all as yet.

For additional background, please see:

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