On 8 and 10 March 2021, the Department for Education (DfE) in England updated its guidance for Students returning to, and starting, higher education in the spring term.
In new information added to the guidance, under a section entitled 'Guidance for international students in the UK who wish to travel overseas while national restrictions apply – including during Easter Break', it has added the following advice (currently on page 30):
"As has been the case throughout the period of national lockdown, foreign nationals resident in England, including international students, are subject to the ‘Stay at Home’ regulations in the same way as domestic students.
"International students should therefore remain at their term time accommodation, and must not leave it to travel abroad or within England, unless they are leaving their accommodation to travel for a legally permitted reason.
"Such reasons could include moving home, travelling for compassionate reasons, travelling for study, or if they have a medical need to do so – which would include mental health reasons. As for domestic students, international students are also allowed to return home once for their Easter break, which includes a journey involving overseas travel. However, in order to minimise transmission, and because travel restrictions could change whilst students are overseas, making it harder for students to get back into England, we would strongly advise students not to travel, and to remain in their term-time accommodation.
"Prior to travel, travellers must complete a travel declaration form demonstrating that they have a legal reason to travel.
"Before considering travel, students are advised to consult Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advice for the country they intend to visit or transit through. Some countries have closed their borders, and any country may further restrict travel or bring in new rules with little warning. Students should also consider the requirements on re-entry to England before travelling and must follow all the rules for re-entering the UK."
Therefore, international students who wish to return home overseas over the Easter break are not prohibited from doing so. However, DfE clearly wishes any such student to think very carefully about whether such travel is necessary. We would advise that you speak with your institution before making any decisions about Easter travel.
To provide clarity on the above published guidance, DfE directly provided UniversitiesUK with further wording, which we have been encouraged to share with you:
"You are allowed to travel home for the Spring break if you want to. This is mainly for the benefit of students who have been on campus all term. Students who returned to university on or after 8 March are strongly advised not to travel home.
"If students do choose to travel home, they are legally only allowed to travel there once before 29 April. They can travel back to their term-time accommodation at any time.
"Any students choosing to travel home should get tested before they travel home and then again before they travel back to university, where community testing facilities are available.
"If they test positive, they will be required by law to self-isolate for ten days and should not travel.
"If students are travelling, they should plan ahead and avoid busy times or routes. If driving, they shouldn’t share a car with anyone outside of their household or support bubble. If travelling by public transport, they should wear a face covering unless exempt, social distance where possible and sanitise their hands regularly.
"If students plan to travel overseas to go home they should check additional entry requirements and restrictions that have been introduced due to coronavirus (Covid-19) before travelling and before returning to the UK. This includes:
- Arrivals from all countries booking a pre-departure Covid-19 test, completing a passenger locator form and booking private Covid-19 testing for day 2 and 8 of their stay in the UK. After following the correct arrivals procedure, students should follow instructions on ongoing asymptomatic testing as set out by their university
- If travelling from (or via) a “red list” country, quarantining in a managed quarantine hotel
- If not travelling from (or via) a “red list” country, students will need to self-isolate in their accommodation for ten days. They should follow all the steps on this GOV.UK page. These students have the option to reduce their self-isolation period by taking a coronavirus (Covid-19) test from a private testing provider five full days after arriving in England, with a negative result releasing them from the need to self-isolate. They can read the Coronavirus (Covid-19): Test to Release for international travel guidance and look at a list of providers of tests for Test to Release. Students planning to use the Test to Release scheme must still take a test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8, unless they are exempt."