Cathedral of Barcelona in Spain pictured at dawn above.

Jose Ligero / Wikimedia Commons

Cathedral of Barcelona in Spain pictured at dawn above.

March 13, 2020

After Trump Announces Europe Travel Restrictions, Students Studying Abroad in Spain Scramble to Come Home

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During an Oval Office address on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. “will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.”

Thousands of miles away in Spain, where it was 2 a.m., students started to panic.

“When Trump first [launched] the ban, he wasn’t clear … so the travel ban seemed to include U.S. citizens,” said Alessandro Marchesani ’21, one of 24 students in the CASA Barcelona program. “So we were all freaking out.”

The ban, announced by President Trump, seemed to halt travel beginning at midnight EST. on Friday — giving students less than 48 hours to uproot their lives and make it back into the U.S.

“The entire program, all of us, were scrambling to buy flights to get back,” Marchesani wrote via WhatsApp on Thursday. “We all bought flights within the span of an hour or two. We all rushed to pack and are flying back to our homes within the next 48 hours. It’s just crazy.”

It wasn’t until a few hours later that the Department of Homeland Security clarified that the ban would not apply to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and the immediate family members of citizens and permanent residents, with some other exceptions provided by the U.S. government. If a student fit one of these categories, their status would remain the same.

By that time, however, Marchesani had already booked a flight for Saturday. Scheduled to depart from Portugal to his home in Miami, he was crossing his fingers that it would be early enough that he would be let back into the country.

Cornell sent an email to students abroad regarding Trump’s new policy at 11:44 p.m. EST – 4:44 a.m. in Barcelona — hours after most students in Marchesani’s program had scheduled flights home, he said.

The email informed students across Europe that the ban would not necessarily affect their short-term plans.

“If you are in Europe, you may still stay – provided you feel comfortable and well-cared for,” read the joint email from three faculty members –– Wendy Wolford, vice provost for international affairs, Brandon Lanners, executive director, Office of Global Learning and Chris Cook, manager of international travel health and safety. “Given the uncertainties that the news will create, however, and the challenges with COVID-19 in Europe, we understand that many of you may prefer to depart.”

However, though some programs hosting Cornell students would remain operational, CASA cancelled their programs in Ireland and Barcelona Thursday morning, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The University of Barcelona also canceled classes later on Thursday.

“It had been a whole week of wait and see with the administration, [the Centers for Disease Control] and the program,” Marchesani said. On Wednesday, the CDC elevated Spain to the highest level 3 “warning” standing, recommending travelers avoid the area.

The University email promised assistance to any Cornellian who wanted to come home, and allowed students to update their plans through a new version of a survey those abroad students had previously filled out to communicate their intents.

The email also warned students that getting into the country could be more complicated than normal, and that they would likely need to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving on U.S. soil.

Spain joins 28 other countries on the level 3 list, many of which Cornell sent students to at the beginning of the semester to study abroad. Some students have already been sent back to the states with the closure of their programs. Study abroad programs in Italy and South Korea were suspended earlier this year.

The Spanish government announced sweeping plans to close all schools in and around Madrid on Monday, the Associated Press reported.

Meghana Srivastava ’23 contributed reporting.