University-affiliated international travel suspended for faculty and staff

Penn State leaders concerned about community health and safety, also strongly urge no personal travel

The Nittany Lion Shrine on Penn State's University Park campus. Credit: L. Reidar Jensen / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Uncertainties across the world related to the ongoing pandemic — which have made travel difficult in many regions — have led Penn State leaders to suspend all University-affiliated international travel until further notice, and to also strongly discourage personal travel abroad by Penn Staters. 

“There are a number of reasons that we have suspended University travel abroad, and primary among them is the pace of the latest surge of COVID-19 infections in Europe and elsewhere,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost. “This rapid increase in the spread of COVID-19 has led to quick action by various governments, including new national lockdowns going into effect.”

As the University nears its Nov. 20 date for all in-person courses to transition to remote instruction, travel may be on the minds of some employees. Requests for essential (i.e., mission critical), University-related travel by faculty or staff must be screened and approved by the following offices that are working in concert with the Global Safety Office and its International Restricted Travel Committee:

  • Faculty and staff travel requests will be vetted by the Provost’s office; 
  • Research-related or ARL requests should be submitted to Lora Weiss, senior vice president for Research;
  • College of Medicine requests should be submitted to Kevin Black, interim dean of the college.

Penn State’s Global Safety Office will evaluate both the criticality of travel and the risk associated with it. As is always the case, anyone traveling for University purposes must register in Penn State’s Travel Safety Network Database. This includes travel that is paid for by the University or any outside funding source that is considered University-affiliated, as well as travel to conferences, meetings or guest lecture opportunities. Other examples include travel to participate in performances, competitions, co-curricular activities, etc. by or with a student organization or group. Personal travel is not required to be entered into the TSN database system.

The provost indicated that absent exceptional circumstances (particularly those related to the pandemic or to issues covered by FMLA), Penn State is not approving requests to work remotely while living in another country. Employees  approved for University-affiliated travel are expected to return to the U.S. by their approved return date. While minor travel delays can be accommodated, those unable to return will not be permitted to continue to work remotely while abroad and will be placed on unpaid leave until they return to the U.S.  

“While we understand that during these remote periods an employee may wish to engage in business travel and work activities abroad on a temporary basis, the pandemic has made it impossible to determine when any individual may be able to return and what the requirements will be if they do return,” said Roger Brindley, vice provost for Global Programs at Penn State. “It is an unpredictable and risky situation from a health and safety perspective.”

Permitting Penn State faculty or staff members to work remotely for an extended period of time while living in another country also presents complex challenges for both the University and the individuals, according to Jones. Among them are tax and regulatory requirements to which Penn State must adhere, and these vary by country. 

“Individuals also may have personal tax and regulatory obligations. Without getting into the weeds, just a few things that must be considered are employment laws, benefits, payroll requirements, domestic compliance issues and privacy laws,” said Jones.

Employees who travel internationally also must be prepared to adhere to all health and safety requirements during travel and when returning from another country. Foreign governments may implement restrictions with little notice, even in destinations that were previously considered low risk.

Brindley concurred and said numerous countries have been announcing the closure of their borders. The United Kingdom this week initiated a monthlong lockdown until the first week of December and France has already initiated a national lockdown. Italy also announced this week it will seal off six regions of the country beginning on Nov. 6. Chinese airlines are requiring passengers bound for China via direct flights to engage in multiple testing in the U.S. within 48 hours before boarding any flight. Currently, Argentinian borders remain closed to any foreigner who is not a resident of Argentina, including U.S. citizens, and quarantine and social distancing measures are in place across the country. Additionally, international flight availability is more limited now in most regions of the world because of government restrictions and lack of demand. 

Jones said the University also is strongly discouraging personal international travel for the same reasons, and added that those who wish to undertake personal domestic travel should consider that carefully as well, since COVID-19 cases and deaths have been reported in all 50 states and travel increases the chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19. Employees should continue to follow restrictions in place for University-affiliated domestic travel as well.

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Last Updated January 14, 2021